(CNS Elections): The latest straw poll in the CNS Election Section has thrown up a surprising result, given the perceptions about political parties. While the online vote among our readers is unscientific, the snapshot does at least raise questions about Marl Road predictions that the electorate will, this time around, focus their one vote on independent candidates. The results from the poll indicate that voters still appear to favour parties or formal alliances.
The online poll found that over half would vote for a party or an alliance candidate, with just over 30% of voters saying that they preferred an entirely independent candidate. By Monday morning, almost 19% of participants in the poll said that the affiliation or independence of a candidate would not influence their vote.
Cayman began formalising the idea of party politics following the 2001 coup, when the government led by Kurt Tibbetts following the 2000 election collapsed and McKeeva Bush took over the reins of power. After that political turmoil, two parties formed, but the political positions of those parties has been hard to define, with some philosophical but little policy differences between them.
But the main argument in favour of parties, groups or alliances running together with a specific leader is that voters can see before an election who would likely be premier and serve in the Cabinet, rather that the horse-trading that was common following elections before 2005.
Cayman’s political landscape was traditionally one of backroom deals, which meant that campaign trail promises were largely empty because no one could ever be sure that if they were elected and found themselves cutting a deal to be part of the government, that their new Cabinet colleagues would support their policy positions.
On the other hand, voters have also raised concerns that the last three elections have just been a pointless swap around of political parties, with MLAs all blindly following the party leader. Some believe that what the country needs is a collection of independent thinkers to follow the will of the people, not necessarily the premier.
But the problem with that opinion is that Cayman’s democracy follows the adversarial Westminster system, which also embeds the collective responsibility of Cabinet to allow a government to stand together. And while the voters may feel they want something different, the end result will still be a government that speaks as one voice, with backbenchers that can vote against the front bench but are very unlikely to do so if they want to remain in government, and an opposition.
Knowing ahead of polling day who will be working with whom does have advantages and gives voters slightly more certainty in the result if they vote for a party or allied candidate. This may explain why, although voters may feel that they want some new and independent thinkers, they are also concerned about the horse-trading and manipulation, which could see the successful candidates support entirely different policies to those they campaigned on once they are in office. In comparison, it’s easier for voters to hold the party candidates with full manifestoes to account.
In the last election electors did vote for five independent candidates — but watched as three of them joined the government.
In some constituencies voters had no choice; in both East End and North Side there were no PPM or UDP members on the ticket, and in other multi-member constituencies electors clearly mixed their votes. Collectively, the independents and C4C candidates still only amassed 30.5% of the vote.
But that statistic on its own is hard to pick apart as the multi-voting at the time makes it difficult to see how much of the independent vote was a solid choice or merely part of a mixed approach. This time around, voters have only one vote and the candidates are in a head-to-head race. Whether that will favour the independents, as much of the talk in the public space is suggesting, remains to be seen.