The term ‘political party’ has different meanings depending on the context and country it is used in. Generally, however, a political party is “a group of people who share the same ideas about how the country should be governed. A party's guiding principles help voters decide who to vote for during elections” (taken from UK Parliament educational resource What is the House of Commons?).
A political party’s ideas usually distinguish it from other parties or independent candidates for election. For example, you may have heard of some of these famous political parties from around the world with distinct ideas:
In Cayman the term ‘political party’ is functionally similar to the definitions above, though the Cayman Islands Constitution Order, 2009 (“the Constitution”) assigns it a very specific legal meaning under section 124:
“political party” means a group of persons who have united to contest election for membership of the Legislative Assembly.
The use of the word “contest” in this definition (i.e. to ‘compete in order to attain something’, according to Oxford English Dictionaries) puts the focus on the timing of joining the party’s membership, which must be prior to an election. Therefore, according to the use of the term in the Constitution, a political party cannot be constituted unless its members have joined together prior to being elected as Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs). More information on the rules around political parties can be found in the Elections Law (2013 Revision).
This stipulation affects other important legislative positions including the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. Section 49 of the Constitution requires that the Governor appoint as Premier the MLA who is recommended by a majority of the MLAs who are members of the party that gains a majority of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. Section 68 requires that the Leader of the Opposition be appointed in the same manner, except the recommendation must come from the opposition political party whose numerical strength is greatest.
This system of choosing a Premier and Leader of the Opposition categorizes Cayman's government as a parliamentary system, as opposed to a presidential system such as in countries like the United States, Argentina and South Korea where the president is elected directly by the people.
Political Parties in the Cayman Islands have been a relatively new phenomenon in comparison to the rest of the world. According to historian Michael Craton the first political parties in the Cayman Islands do not appear until 1961, a time of political upheaval when, due to Jamaica's impending independence, Cayman was determining its own future with respect to seeking independence or continuing loyalty to the British Crown, as many other Caribbean territories were doing at the time.
The two parties that arose out of that deliberation – the Christian Democratic Party and the National Democratic Party – were short-lived, as were many others that followed. In speaking of the history of political parties in the Cayman Islands Craton states that, “In general, the [parties] often held similar political ideas [to one another] and pursued similar policies” (2003, p. 321), which may have contributed to their transitory natures. Some of the political parties that have existed throughout Cayman’s history include:
Can you name some other political parties in Cayman's recent history?
Mr Ormond L. Panton (b. 1920, d. 1992) was one of Cayman’s most politically active national heroes, dedicating his life to what he saw as improving the lives of those most socially and politically disadvantaged in the Cayman Islands. Mr Panton was an attorney who began his political career in the Vestry (the name of the Cayman’s legislature before it became the Legislative Assembly), and endeavoured to represent ordinary Caymanians. His successes included securing the right to fair trial in 1955, and he was the first Caymanian to appear before the UK’s Privy Council.
Mr Panton had many firsts in his life, including founding the Cayman Islands first political party – the National Democratic Party. He saw this party as representing the interests of the poorer, non-white or margianlised persons in Cayman society which he identified with, as well as somewhat controversially being in favour of independence from Britain via the short-lived West Indies Federation in the 1960s (Craton, 2003, p. 310).
The story of Mr Panton’s National Democratic Party (NDP) illustrates just how precarious politics and political parties can be. Whilst the NDP won a majority of seats in the 1962 election (seven out of twelve), the party was effectively ousted when then Administrator/Commissioner Jack Rose selected three NDP members sympathetic to the opposition party (Christian Democratic Party or “CDP”, who won five seats) as nominated Members. These three then voted together with the five CDP Members to elect the CDP leader, and an NDP member in favour of Cayman remaining a British territory, as the two elected Members of the Executive Council.
These political moves effectively kept Mr Panton out of power, preventing his vision for the Cayman Islands’ independence from Britain from panning out. They also led to the dissolution of the NDP and CDP parties. Craton reports that the experience left Mr Panton embittered (2003, p. 318). Though he remained in government and politics for some years after, he eventually moved on to engage in community work, serving as a Director on the board of Cayman Airways Ltd., and becoming one of the first chartered Rotarians in the Cayman Islands. Mr Panton became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his contributions to society in 1984, and was designated as a national hero in 2011.
Reading more about Mr Panton’s life provides an excellent opportunity to learn about politics and political parties in Cayman. Recommended reading materials include A Special Son: The biography of Ormond Panton (Martins, 1990-1992), and Founded Upon the Seas: A History of the Cayman Islands and their People (Craton, 2003), as well as other historical news media, oral history transcripts and publications available through the Cayman Islands National Archive (view the CINA website for information to make an appointment).
Several organisations, local and international, provide students with experience to understand the ideas behind functioning in a political system and political parties. These organisations include:
Age group: middle to late secondary school
Click here to download the example activity with answers.
Political parties embody shared views and are formed with the intention of being elected to parliament and influencing governance. In this lesson students explore concepts of collective action and representation; identify issues of national concern; form parties; develop party platforms; and deliver an election speech.
Party: from Middle English partie, from Old French partir to divide
Documents and Resources
*Adapted from Australia Parliamentary Education Office parliamentary lesson plan titled Representation: Political Parties.