Not all referenda are equal
The referendum that took place yesterday was clearly inspired by the will of the people. It was also guided by a very hardworking group of people. However, it was NOT a people-initiated referendum within the meaning of section 70 of the Constitution. That may sound like an obscure point, but it has great significance in understanding what the vote count means.
The Constitution only provides for a threshold of 50% plus one of the registered voters under section 70, and it sets that threshold for a people-initiated referendum that is to be binding on government. All other referenda that are based on section 69 of the Constitution, and in section 69 of the Constitution there is no requirement for 50% plus one of registered voters. If there is anyone who doubts this, they should look at the 2009 Constitution which is available online.
The Constitution specifies that a people-initiated section 70 referendum can only take place after a petition has been submitted. The simple fact that the OMOV petition was never handed in to government prevents yesterday’s election from being a section 70 people-initiated referendum.
The government made a choice. They chose to make yesterday’s referendum a government sponsored section 69 referendum, rather than a people-initiated referendum, when they declared the referendum before any petition could be handed in. The government undoubtedly had their reasons for setting the timing of the referendum prior to the the OMOV initiative submitting their petition.
There is nothing wrong with the government calling a referendum, but it is inappropriate for government to attempt to confuse the public's understanding of the requirements of the Constitution. Any suggestion by the government that a government sponsored referendum requires the support of 50% plus one of registered voters, rather than a simple majority of those casting votes, is simply not based on anything in the Constitution.
There is simply no requirement in section 69 of the Constitution for anything other than a majority of those voting to pass a referendum. It could even be argued that as yesterday’s referendum was a government referendum and the government was clearly advocating that people vote NO, then the government lost the referendum as a clear majority of those voting rejected the government’s position.
There is also no basis in the Constitution for any suggestion by those seeking to spin the result that the number of people not voting should somehow be counted as invisible votes in favour of the government’s position. Not voting counts for nothing in the Constitution.
The government of the day may choose to say that they will not be bound by a YES vote of less than 50% of those registered to vote, or 50% of those that drive Volvos, or any percentage of anything else they choose. As the elected government and sponsors of a referendum they can choose any threshold they want for whatever purposes they choose. That does not change the fact that government sponsored referenda are to be counted on the basis of those voting, not those on the electoral register. That was what was done in the Constitution referendum of 2009.
It may be that the government’s spin doctors and so-called experts will now try to confuse the issue and the people by suggesting that the OMOV initiative somehow failed. That is simply not the case, according to the Constitution or on any realistic measure of what the people want. Spinning the result is politrix, it does not change what the Constitution says.
Approximately two-thirds of those voting in the referendum were in favour of the concept of one person one vote and single member constituencies. That is very good news. As a Caymanian I would like to thank everyone involved in the OMOV initiative for their efforts on behalf of democracy in this country. It is my sincere hope that they will keep up their efforts. Their selfless work to make Cayman better is a true inspiration.
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