By Staff Writer
With a vote of eight in favour, seven against, and three abstentions, a motion of no-confidence late Tuesday evening failed to unseat the government of Premier Wayne Panton.
Despite the votes in-favour dominating, it failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in the constitution.
Two of the three abstentions came from within the PACT coalition team.
While the outcome brought days of speculation in the public domain and behind-the-scenes power plays to an end, it left unresolved the constitutional issues surrounding the ongoing hung parliament. Both the government and opposition each still hold nine seats out of 19 in the chamber, leaving the Speaker with a critical casting vote.
Speaker of Parliament Catherine Ebank-Wilks, in an important intervention at the end of the session, called for constitutional reform to be considered especially pertaining to the position of the Speaker in such situations and for the role to be autonomous.
Premier Wayne Panton was battling to save his shaky coalition government against an onslaught of criticism led by the main opposition People’s Progressive Movement (PPM/Progressives) in a no-confidence motion supported by former members of his government.
In leading off the debate, the Leader of the Opposition, Progressives leader, McTaggart, referred to what he called “an unprecedented situation”. He submitted that the motion was directed at the policy shortcomings of what he described as a dysfunctional government which he said now lacked the parliamentary majority to govern effectively.
Referring to a series of policy failures by the current administration, the former finance minister with the previous PPM-led government, was particularly concerned about the status of the upcoming budget and its implications for the government’s economic management.
Responding to the motion of no-confidence against his administration, Premier Wayne Panton strongly defended his government’s track record and rejected the Opposition’s move as “opportunistic”.
He brushed aside reports of rifts in his PACT team dismissing them as being blown out of proportion.
“We all wish for a Cayman that will focus on the greater good and the welfare of the less fortunate, and that is what we’ve been trying to deliver on,” he stated and called for the Parliament and the country to move beyond the issue of the no-confidence motion.
Mr Panton’s PACT coalition has suffered the exit of three members this year; former finance minister Chris Saunders, Labour Minister Dwayne Seymour and just over a week ago backbench supporter McKeeva Bush.
With the departure of Mr Bush in particular, the PACT was left in a precarious position, having just nine members on the government side of the Parliament. That was a crucial part of the reasons listed by the Opposition for bringing the no-confidence motion.
With the inclusion of the Speaker Katherine Ebanks-Wilks, a PACT supporter, that gave the government 10 votes in an otherwise hung parliament. But it effectively created a constitutional challenge in the event of deadlocked votes to pass legislation.
The no-confidence motion also presented another constitutional conundrum.
Much of the attention was focused on the 13 votes needed for the motion to be successful which would have meant further defections from within the PACT team.
Unlike the United Kingdom and several Overseas Territories (British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos Islands) which use a simple majority, the Cayman Islands constitution requires a two-thirds majority for a no-confidence motion to carry.
Opposition leader Mr McTaggart (Progressives/PPM) had said he was not in favour of early election and presented alternative options for a new coalition led by the Progressives/PPM, or a new PACT team without Mr Panton as Premier.
The two main speeches for and against the motion were bookended by equally passionate presentations with Minister for Health Sabrina Turner standing by the Premier and the PACT team, contrasted by ex-PACT colleagues Chris Saunders, McKeeva Bush and Dwayne Seymour.
Ex-PACT Finance Minister Chris Saunders, in his presentation, cited his disagreements with PACT leader and Premier Wayne Panton leading to his decision to quit the coalition but defended other remaining members of the coalition as hard-working and committed.
Current Minister of Health Sabrina Turner defended the track record of the PACT coalition and committed to keeping her political loyalty intact with PACT.
Mr Seymour disclosed internal differences led the PACT caucus to vote for their leader, Premier Wayne Panton to step down. He also reminded that he had tabled a motion of confidence in Parliament in support of the coalition.
Former Premier and ex-PPM/Progressives leader Sir Alden McLaughlin was excoriating in his assessment of the PACT administration government especially its leadership referencing Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Merchant of Venice to illustrate what he saw as the demise confronting the coalition. Deputy Opposition leader (Progressives) Joey Hew also went on the attack against the PACT governing record and reports of internal divisions, saying the rest of the region was watching the unfolding political drama in Cayman, an observation previously made.
PACT Commerce Minister Andre Ebanks admitted that there were stresses within the coalition and referred to instances in the Parliament where the Cabinet seemed to be “at battle with itself”.
Throughout the various presentations, ‘country over self’ was the dominant theme from both sides of the motion.