BDA/UBP merger talks hit a brick wall

Opposition merger talks have hit a brick wall with the two sides arguing over the role of the United Bermuda Party’s top level executives.

The UBP, which has nine MPs to the Bermuda Democratic Alliance’s three, is said to want greater representation among the hierarchy of a new amalgamated party.

However, the BDA fears the new group would get dragged down by the UBP’s legacy if too many official Opposition members take up senior positions.

Members from each party yesterday told The Royal Gazette the other side needs a change in mindset for the deal to go through; both sides fear a landslide Progressive Labour Party victory at the next General Election if a merger doesn’t happen.

It came as a poll released yesterday shows more people would vote for a new party combining the UBP, BDA and “others interested in change” than would vote for the PLP.

One BDA source said yesterday: “The negotiations have been complex and have now faltered on a key point: the UBP’s inability to truly commit to the required drastic and immediate changes we need for this new entity to be a success.

“The UBP must abandon as many of the former faces of the UBP as it can possibly afford to let go. Right now it’s at a bit of a stalemate.

“The stalemate is not so much about personalities, it’s about what change is and what it represents.”

A UBP source said: “We are a much bigger organisation than they are. They want the majority on some of the most important committees. We can’t do that, it shows a lack of trust.

“The BDA need to change their mindset. I understand where they are coming from, but they have to face reality.”

Many BDA members are said to be annoyed they joined a party which could now be affiliated to the UBP, claiming they never would have joined the UBP because of its legacy.

Immigration spokesman Alex DeCouto has resigned and St George’s West candidate Dueane Dill has moved away from the front line; both have declined to comment on why.

Mr Dill and Southampton East Central candidate Michael Branco both ruled out a merger with the UBP at the end of last year, with Mr Dill telling this newspaper in December: “That’s not on my horizon.” At that time, Mr Branco stated: “That would be offensive to those who have joined the BDA.”

In a new poll by Mindmaps, conducted during the seven days beginning Monday last week, 39 percent of people said they would vote for a party comprising the UBP, BDA and “others interested in change”, compared with 36 percent for the PLP.

The potential new party had the backing of 77 percent of whites and 21 percent of blacks, with the PLP supported by three percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks.

UBP/BDA/others was most strongly supported by the 55 to 64 age bracket, claiming 57 percent to the PLP’s 32 percent. However, over 65s overwhelmingly backed the PLP, taking 57 percent to the other group’s 16 percent.

Most people (61 percent) said the choice of leader of the new Opposition would not impact their decision to vote for them, with just 25 percent saying it would.

And UBP Senator Michael Dunkley was again the people’s choice as leader of the combined Opposition, with 27 percent selecting him out of 11 options.

UBP MPs Grant Gibbons and John Barritt were next, a long way behind on seven percent each, with BDA leader Craig Cannonier and UBP leader Kim Swan getting six percent each.

Nobody scored more than two percent among Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards, BDA MPs Shawn Crockwell and Mark Pettingill, BDA chairman Michael Fahy and Mr Branco.

Meetings between senior UBP and BDA members have been ongoing since around the time of December’s Warwick South Central by-election, with Mr Crockwell, Mr Pettingill, Mr Fahy and Mr Cannonier representing the BDA, and Dr Gibbons, Mr Barritt, Mr Richards, Sen Dunkley and Senator Jeanne Atherden for the UBP.

Mr Swan has been missing from most of the talks and has repeatedly declined to comment since the possible merger became public knowledge.

The new chairman is likely to be from the BDA camp, while Mr Barritt has been selected as the short-term leader; it’s thought he would lead the party until the next election before standing down. Sen Dunkley has been tipped as a contender to replace him at that stage, although BDA members are keen for Mr Cannonier to take that position.

Many BDA members want the UBP to issue a statement accepting it has contributed to Bermuda’s racial divide.

It’s understood that idea met resistance from some in the UBP, but a BDA source said: “I feel confident that we can settle on the appropriate wording.”

Mindmaps’ poll involved 405 registered voters and has a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

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Published Feb 23, 2011 at 9:01 am (Updated Feb 23, 2011 at 9:01 am)

BDA/UBP merger talks hit a brick wall

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