Senate gives go-ahead to Referendum bill

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After a marathon Senate debate yesterday, the controversial Independence referendum bill crossed the final legislative hurdle.

It went through unopposed -- even though Opposition senators had earlier argued against it.


After a marathon Senate debate yesterday, the controversial Independence referendum bill crossed the final legislative hurdle.

It went through unopposed -- even though Opposition senators had earlier argued against it.

Now it is up to Premier the Hon. Sir John Swan to announce a referendum date.

Today, the Progressive Labour Party is expected to say whether it will mount a boycott campaign against the referendum.

Government Senate Leader the Hon. Gerald Simons was jubilant after yesterday's seven-and-a-half hour debate.

But he was surprised the three Progressive Labour Party senators remained silent as the bill was passed.

"I like to think they were persuaded by our argument. Personally, I can't see how anyone can be opposed to giving people the right to vote on such an important issue.'' Government Sen. Larry Scott also voiced amazement that the bill -- which must receive Royal Assent from Governor, Lord Waddington -- went through so easily.

"Where was the fight? It all ended with rather a whimper.'' he said.

Last night, Opposition Senate Leader Sen. Milton Scott said his party's stance was quite clear -- while the PLP supported Independence, it opposed a referendum.

He said the Opposition in the Senate had strenuously objected to the legislation.

But there was no need to formally vote against the bill because it was clear the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

It was on March 24 that MPs passed the Independence Referendum Act in a 20-18 vote.

Under a deal to appease Government rebels, it was agreed that another referendum voting formula be set up.

The new formula means at least 40 percent of those on the electoral roll must vote for or against Independence for there to be a mandate.

A simple majority will then decide which way the Country goes.

If, for instance, 33,000 people will be eligible to vote, at least 13,200 must vote the same way -- and be in the majority -- for the referendum to be binding.

Yesterday's successful passage of the legislation follows a saga of Parliamentary anguish for Government.

Last year, Government's bid to set up a Commission of Inquiry before Independence died in the Senate.

Independent senators, objecting to the proposed voting formula for Independence, helped the Opposition defeat the bill.

Yesterday, the three Independent senators were on Government's side.

"We could take nothing for granted, however,'' stressed Sen. Simons.

But he added: "I think the PLP did not object at the end because they realised the Independent senators were not opposed to the bill.'' Kicking off the debate, Sen. Simons said the UBP believed Bermudians should decide the issue.

He stressed the referendum would be held before the end of the year.

Sen. Simons said Government would be releasing position papers on key Independence issues, such as citizenship before a referendum.

An Opposition move to delay discussion of the bill for six months was defeated by eight votes to three.

Sen. Scott later proposed another motion -- this one to ensure that only Bermudians could vote in a referendum.

It would have excluded about 300 non-Bermudians on the electoral register who are able to vote because they were on the Island prior to 1976.

But the motion was again defeated on a split on party lines.

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