What is a Political Party?

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:

  •  Labour and Conservative parties in the United Kingdom;
  • Republican and Democratic parties in the United States;
  • the Communist party in Cuba which saw Fidel Castro come into power (although at the time it was called the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations); and
  • the African National Congress party in South Africa, of which Nelson Mandela was a member when he was elected as the first black president, running on an anti-apartheid platform. 

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:

  • National Democratic Party (1961-?)
  • Christian Democratic Party (1962-?)
  • Unity and Dignity Teams (1970s & 1980s)
  • National Team (1992-?)
  • People’s Progressive Movement / the Progressives (2002-present)
  • United Democratic Party /Cayman Democratic Party (2002-present)

Can you name some other political parties in Cayman's recent history?


Who is Ormond L. Panton?

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.


Learn More about Political Parties

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:

Example Activity
Representation: Political Parties*

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.

Students will:

  •  list current federal parliamentary parties;
  •  consider the role of political parties;
  •  practise party based representation;
  •  state the relationship between parties, elections and Cayman Islands policy; and
  •  define specific parliamentary terms.

Focus Questions

  • Why do political parties form?
  •  What is a party platform?
  •  What is a party policy?
  •  What is the difference between a political and parliamentary party?

Concept Words

  •  Party
  •  Ideology
  • Election
  •  Political party
  •  Party discipline
  •  Campaign
  •  Platform
  •  Policy
  •  Voting
  •  Agenda
  •  Social movement
  •  Member of parliament
  •  Member of the Legislative Assembly

Getting Started

  1.  Initiate discussions by asking students: How do groups form in parliament? 
  2. Discuss the benefits of collaborating with like-minded people.
  3.  List the main political parties in the Cayman Islands. Who do these parties represent? Why do they form? 
  4. Discuss the difference between the smaller parliamentary party and the larger political party. (see diagram below)











Main Activity

  1. Ask students: What's your cause? What big issues do you care about? 
  2.  Group like issues under 3 or 4 subject headings. 
  3. Group students into parties based on shared views and concerns. Parties may vary in size. Retain two students to act as Independents (members of parliament who do not belong to a party).
  4. Ask students to determine a party name, to select a spokesperson, to develop a party platform which reflects the party's priorities and to present an election campaign speech of 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Hear each presentation and allow time for peer review.


  1. Ask students to describe their experience of belonging to a party. Ask: Were party members committed and motivated? Was input shared or dominated by individuals? Was the party well organised and effective in communicating its philosophy?
  2.  Did experiences vary? How? Why? What was it like to be an Independent and to act alone?

Parliamentary Context

  •  Why does a political party need a clear and effective platform?
  • How does a party platform influence how people vote?
  • How do political parties influence change in Cayman? 
  • What might happen in a country if there were no parties, just Independents? 
  • How well do you think political parties represent different sectors of the Cayman Islands community?

Extension Activities

  • Ask students to create a poster which outlines their party's political principles.
  •  Ask students to create a 30 second video advertisement promoting their party's political principles.
  •  Ask students to research an issue and to create a policy statement to address the problem. Include a five point outline, a rationale and an implementation plan.

Useful Tools


Party: from Middle English partie, from Old French partir to divide

  1. a person or group taking one side of a question, dispute or contest
  2.  a group of persons organised for the purpose of directing the policies of government
  3. a person or group participating in an action or affair e.g. a group of soldiers.

Documents and Resources

*Adapted from Australia Parliamentary Education Office parliamentary lesson plan titled Representation: Political Parties.