(L-R) Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, former premier McKeeva Bush and leader of the opposition Alden McLaughlin
By Caribbean News Now contributor
GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- The Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly voted overwhelmingly late on Thursday to reject a private member’s motion brought by former premier McKeeva Bush, seeking to force the government to refuse a request by Britain to invite election observers to the territory.
Elections in the Cayman Islands have never been subject to independent scrutiny but, in a letter on January 22, Britain’s Overseas Territories Minister Mark Simmonds asked Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly to “invite” foreign observers to witness its May 22 general election.
“We are not averse to this in principle, even though Cayman has had free and fair elections for decades,” O’Connor-Connolly responded. “We need to check if it would comply with Cayman’s Elections Law and it requires very careful presentation or it could be seen as very damaging to our reputation.”
In a reply to the premier, Simmonds responded that he was “encouraged” to note that Cayman was not averse to the idea. “I support this,” he said. “It is good practice for mature democracies.”
Simmonds noted that other British Overseas Territories, including the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands, had recently entertained overseas observers in their elections.
In tabling his motion to have government refuse to invite a team of international election observers to come to the Cayman Islands, Bush argued that observers only go to places where there are known or suspected problems or to emerging democracies.
He said that no one in the Cayman Islands had ever made a request for observers, as there have never been any threats to voters or problems with elections in the territory, which he claimed have been free and fair.
Ironically, persistent rumours of vote buying and undue influence on voters in the past have all been centred on Bush’s own constituency.
Opposition leader Alden McLaughlin said he believed the request by Britain resulted from a complete loss of trust in the government of the Cayman Islands over the last four years and the numerous questionable actions of the former premier and his administration.
Bush is currently under arrest on suspicion of theft and corruption.
“Let them investigate me; they have found nothing,” Bush said, referring to at least three police investigations into the accusations of theft and corruption against him. “I know why I was removed and the whole world knows it. I have done nothing illegal.”
O’Connor-Connolly confirmed that the government was still looking at how the observers could be facilitated within local legislation. She said it was becoming normal practice in many countries, including major leading democratic nations.
She refuted the idea that observers imply the process is inadequate and said inviting them demonstrated the confidence a government had in its system.
“We have not made a decision but I believe it would be more negative to say 'no'," she added.
McLaughlin said any concerns about how it looked would be short lived and erased with a clean report from the observers confirming a good, solid, system with a fair and reliable result, free of fraud and intimidation.
The opposition leader said it could be what the Cayman Islands needed to lift it from the depths to which its reputation had sunk.