GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman The people of this Caribbean island-nation go to the polls Wednesday to vote for a new government in a general election in which there are no clear-cut favourites.
Two major parties, the People's Progressive Movement (PPM) which has branded itself as The Progressives under the leadership of attorney Alden McLaughlin and the United Democratic Party (UDP), led by former premier McKeeva Bush, are fielding slates of 15 and 12 candidates respectively.
The People's National Alliance (PNA), a breakaway faction of the UDP, which has formed a lame duck government since the ouster of Mr. Bush in a lack of confidence vote last December, is running a ticket of five candidates.
Another grouping, Coalition for Cayman (C4C) has endorsed a slate of seven candidates. However, C4C insists it is not a party but a political advocacy group promoting independent leaders who will always put Country First.
Add to the mix a plethora of other independent candidates, which brings to total of 56 candidates vying for the 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly, the parliament of this British Overseas Territory where there are 18,492 registered voters. Nowhere is the race more intriguing than in George Town, the capital of this financial services jurisdiction, where there are 21 candidates on the ballot for the six available seats.
There is no history of consistent scientific opinion polls in the lead up to elections in the Cayman Islands, although some of the parties and groups have commissioned their own surveys this time around the results of which they have kept out of the public domain. However, unscientific polls by the various media houses indicate there is a chance of no party securing an outright majority, meaning a coalition government could be a distinct possibility.
Efforts to prognosticate the outcome are further muddied because of the system of electing Members of the Legislative Assembly. Voters in George Town can vote for as many as six candidates, whereas residents of the quaint districts of East End and North Side can only cast one vote each. In West Bay and Bodden Town, voters in those two districts can vote for as many as four candidates in each instance, whereas in the dual riding of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, voters on the outlying islands can only elect two representatives.
With this system, there is the possibility of a single resident being able to vote for representatives of each party or grouping. In West Bay, where the PPM, UDP, PNA and C4C all have candidates, it means someone in that district could vote for people with four different political affiliations.
Nonetheless, all camps are expressing varying levels of confidence ahead of the vote.
Mr Bush, who has led the UDP since 2001, has signalled to his rivals that he remains a factor on the islands' political landscape. The ex-premier, who has had an antagonistic relationship with some British officials both here and in London, has a cult-like following especially in his home district of West Bay, where he polled 71.6 per cent of the votes cast at the last general election in 2009.
However, his popularity as the man to lead the government has been put to the test with his arrest last December and subsequent criminal charges for alleged breaches of the Anti-Corruption Law. Members of his own party sided with the parliamentary opposition to remove him from office. Those who broke ranks have splintered off into the PNA.
[There should be] zero doubt as to whether or not I would return to the UDP or form a government with them, the answer is no, no, no, said former UDP colleague and present Deputy Premier Rolston Anglin a PNA candidate.
Meantime, the C4C-endorsed candidates issued a joint statement a week ahead of the poll, which said: We will not form a Cabinet with the United Democratic Party.
Mr Bush insists his party is in the lead and labels the C4C candidates as unworthy candidates.
None of the C4C have led any country and certainly they have not displayed any goodness of heart to people in this country, he said.
On the other hand, the PPM, which formed the government from 2005 to 2009 bookended by Mr Bush's UDP on either side, is cautiously optimistic that it can retake the reins of power. The Progressives leader, Alden McLaughlin, a former education minister, has dismissed any talk of the need for a coalition during the campaign.
We have a team of 15, the biggest team in the race, he told supporters at a recent rally on the outskirts of the capital.
Any of those others who get elected are going to have to make a deal with somebody if they are going to form a government_ don't know who the C4C people are talking to. I don't know who the PNA people are talking to. I don't know who the other independents are talking to but they aren't talking to us.
He has also dismissed the notion of working with the UDP.
I have no doubt that the worst period that the Cayman Islands have ever endured has been the past four years under the UDP administration.
Forming a government is a numbers game and the people of the Cayman Islands are aware that neither the UDP nor the PPM may get 10 candidates elected. That scenario plays into the hands of the C4C, PNA and independent candidates like Ezzard Miller and Arden Mclean both popular nationally and likely to be returned in North Side and East End respectively.
With so much riding on this election, an election observer mission from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association headed by veteran Maltese MP Mario Galea is on the ground to monitor the poll. A local observer team has also been appointed.
The UDP won the last general election by a margin of nine seats to five by the PPM, with Mr Miller as the lone independent in the Legislative Assembly. Mr McLean left the PPM last August to sit as an independent member.
With the past two elections being won hands down by either the UDP or the PPM, people here and abroad are likely watching with bated breath to see if the proverbial winds of change are blowing or what form the government will take after Wednesday's vote.
View live coverage of the Cayman Islands general election all day Wednesday and into Thursday at www.cayman27.ky
Note about the author:
Ben Meade is the News Director at Cayman 27, a privately-owned television station based in Grand Cayman. He has previously worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service (Caribbean Service) and the Caribbean Media Corporation. He has reported extensively on political affairs and reported on several elections across the Caribbean.