Dunkley seen as the best choice to lead a merged Opposition
More than half of voters think Bermuda's two Opposition parties should merge, according to a poll.
United Bermuda Party Senator Michael Dunkley was comfortably the nation's choice to lead the new entity, as insiders say talks continue between senior UBP and Bermuda Democratic Alliance figures.
Sen Dunkley, who previously scotched talk within his own party he was joining the BDA, yesterday told The Royal Gazette: “The people of Bermuda believe the Island is headed in the wrong direction. We need a strong Opposition to help turn things around and I support that party whatever form it takes.”
The UBP repeated its stance Bermuda doesn't need a divided Opposition, while the BDA said both parties have consistently talked about the need to hold Government to account.
Fifty-one percent of voters in the Mindmaps survey said the parties should amalgamate, with 37 percent saying no and 13 percent unsure.
Some in favour of a merger said both parties are currently weak and would have a better chance of winning the next election if joined together.
They echoed predictions of many pundits that the UBP and BDA would split the Opposition vote, helping the Progressive Labour Party to a large victory at the polls.
Other reasons offered by voters included:
l the BDA is too inexperienced and needs the expertise of the UBP;
l in a combined party, the BDA element could cater for the younger population, and the UBP for the older;
l a two-party system is more appropriate for Bermuda's population base;
l the BDA should not have split from the UBP in the first place.
Some who wanted the parties to carry on their separate ways said the BDA needs a chance to prove itself and fresh ideas from a new party will help Bermuda get through tough economic times.
Other reasons included:
l strong-willed individuals would continue bickering if they merged;
l an amalgamated party would retain the UBP's legacy and never get the black vote;
l they are two different parties with their own platforms.
Sen Dunkley, who was dropped as UBP Senate leader last November, was the most popular choice as leader of an amalgamation, with 27 percent.
UBP leader Kim Swan came second with 13 percent, and veteran Opposition MPs John Barritt and Grant Gibbons close behind on ten percent.
No other politician got into double figures, with PLP backbencher Dale Butler, who has ruled out a move to the BDA, getting a handful of votes.
There was one vote each for Bermuda Police Service spokesman Dwayne Caines and developer Brian Duperreault, while three people said nobody is capable.
The BDA was formed after UBP MPs Shawn Crockwell, Donte Hunt and Mark Pettingill quit in the summer of 2009, in frustration at fellow members' refusal to push for reform in the face of three successive general election defeats.
The defectors pointed to studies showing race-based voting patterns mean the PLP has 18 safe seats against the UBP's ten, making victory virtually impossible.
However, some say the Alliance has failed to lure enough support away from the PLP, and in last month's Warwick South Central by-election the BDA and UBP split the Opposition vote in half, allowing the ruling party to increase its lead.
Members of both parties say if that happens across the board at the next election, the PLP could win by an overwhelming margin.
This newspaper understands talks are still ongoing between senior party figures, but that the UBP is not keen on some of the BDA's demands. Neither party has confirmed any amalgamation talks have taken place.
Reacting to the poll yesterday, Sen Dunkley said: “My focus is on trying to help the people of Bermuda and the important issues that we face, among them: turning the economy around, reducing Government debt, rebuilding tourism, making Bermuda a more attractive destination for business, creating opportunity and jobs and reducing gangs and gun violence.
“We can all worry about internal politics later.”
A UBP spokesman said: “We have said from the start that Bermuda is not well served by a divided Opposition. Today's poll indicates that a lot of people across Bermuda share that view.
“The poll provides food for thought and we appreciate the Gazette's effort to explore the question.
“We want to do what is best for Bermuda and that means providing the people with a realistic alternative to the Government of the day. Real choice is fundamental to any society that wants to find the best answers to the challenges confronting it.
“The poll indicates one way to achieve that and, for that reason, it has our attention.”
BDA leader Craig Cannonier said: “The Royal Gazette poll results are refreshing since they show that people are thinking seriously about what is best for the Island and expressing their opinions. We welcome this.”
Regarding talks between the two parties, chairman Michael Fahy said: “The UBP and the BDA have talked on many occasions about holding the Government to account and what is in the best interests of the Country.
“It would be stupid not to. The BDA has repeatedly said we are open to talking with any party, person or organisation that has the interests of the Country at heart. It is in our constitution. In short sure we talk. Our MPs sit in Opposition after all like the UBP MPs.”
The telephone poll of 400 registered voters was conducted between January 10 and January 19 and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.
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