Ousted premier seeks return to power in Cayman

Ex-premier who was ousted amid corruption probe seeks return to power in Cayman elections

Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- A former Cayman Islands premier who faces 11 criminal charges and was ousted from leadership last year went into Wednesday's general elections with an outside chance of returning to power in the British Overseas Territory.

McKeeva Bush's United Democratic Party was one of two parties given a distant shot at winning outright in the voting for all 18 seats in the legislature. But since no party fielded candidates for all the seats, most observers said a coalition government was likely for the three-island territory of about 56,000 people.

There are no reliable political polls in the Cayman Islands, which is the world's sixth largest financial center and a major haven for mutual funds and private equity. Results were expected to be announced Thursday.

Bush's main rival was attorney Alden McLaughlin, head of the People's Progressive Movement, which had a slate of 15 candidates. Bush's party had 12 candidates. Ten seats are needed to win control of the 18-seat legislature.

In December, Bush lost a no-confidence vote and was ousted as premier after being arrested on suspicion of misusing a government credit card, abuse of office and other charges. He has said the police probes are politically motivated and he will clear his name.

Despite the criminal charges against him and his high-profile ouster as leader, Bush expressed confidence he could lead his party to victory.

"I've been knocked down a lot, but I get back up and I don't dwell on the past," Bush told TV station Cayman 27.

After Bush's removal as premier, a breakaway faction of his splintered party formed a lame duck government as the People's National Alliance. They fielded five candidates, including Premier Juliana O'Connor-Connolly.

Election officials said there were 18,492 eligible voters and nearly 80 percent of them turned out Wednesday at polling stations. There were 56 candidates in all, nearly half of them independents. The recently created Coalition for Cayman, a potentially influential political advocacy group, promoted seven independents.

Once results are announced, it could take a week for a coalition government to be forged and a new premier to be chosen if neither of the two main parties dominates the vote. If no single party wins, Cayman's constitution mandates that all elected members of the legislature cast their votes in a leadership ballot.

The two main parties have similar manifestos pledging to protect the islands' financial services industry, boost tourism, create jobs and lower the cost of living.

McLaughlin blasted Bush's previous administration, saying the last four years had been a time of tense relations with Britain and "corruption and rumors of corruption." He said Bush's arrest on corruption charges damaged the territory's reputation and harmed the government's credibility with foreign investors.

Relations with Britain were strained under Bush, who described the British-appointed Gov. Duncan Taylor as his "enemy" and implied Taylor was behind his arrest.

First elected in 1984, Bush is the islands' longest serving politician. He remained a lawmaker after being ousted as premier.

The vote was being observed by a team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter/com/dmcfadd

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