‘A NEW DAY’
The One Bermuda Alliance last night ended the Progressive Labour Party’s 14-year hold on power in a fiercely fought general election in which Premier Paula Cox lost her seat.
The OBA won 19 seats to the PLP’s 17, a result that means that Craig Cannonier, who has been a Member of Parliament for only 13 months, is the Island’s Premier-elect.
“It’s a new Bermuda and a new day in politics,” Mr Cannonier declared at the OBA’s victory get-together at the Vasco Da Gama Club, as hundreds of the young party’s supporters celebrated ecstatically outside on Reid Street.
A night of excruciating tension finally concluded just before midnight in the OBA’s favour with 26-year-old Nandi Davis’s victory in St George’s West by a margin of just four votes over PLP rival Renee Anderson-Ming.
“It was so close,” a breathless Ms Davis said. “I am shocked. I worked hard in my constituency. I am excited. I can’t believe it!”
Ms Cox’s surprise defeat came at the hands of the OBA’s Glen Smith, a father-of-two, the CEO of Island Self Storage Ltd and an entrepreneur who has launched ten businesses.
Mr Smith won by 93 votes in Devonshire North West to end Ms Cox’s 16-year stint as an MP. Between hugs and noisy congratulations from OBA colleagues, Mr Smith said: “I am a home-grown boy in that constituency, and in the end that’s what put me over the top. I got a chance to meet everyone and get to know them on a personalised basis, and that was what did it.”
Ms Cox was magnanimous in defeat. “It’s disappointing but the voters spoke,” she said. “A good fight was waged by the Opposition and I think that they deserved their win.”
She added that boundary changes had been a factor and had meant Constituency 14 was no longer the PLP stronghold it was when she was first elected there in 1996.
Ms Cox added: “I think the issue is the economy and the fact that people are feeling that.”
In the end, the political headwinds whipped up by a four-year recession and an official unemployment rate of eight percent were too strong for the PLP to overcome.
At the OBA’s celebration, Mr Cannonier made it clear that helping the victims of recession would be top of his new Government’s to-do list.
“To those who cannot feed their families, seniors who cannot afford to stay in their own Country — the OBA will work for you,” he told supporters.
Later in an interview with The Royal Gazette, Mr Cannonier said: “We have a lot of work to do — and first thing in the morning we will be getting jobs back out there for Bermudians. We need to get Bermudians back to work.”
The OBA claimed other notable PLP scalps, including Education Minister and former Premier Jennifer Smith, defeated in St George’s North by Kenneth Bascome; Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Patrice Minors, who was humbled by Michael Dunkley in Smith’s North; and party stalwart David Burch, beaten in Warwick North Central by Wayne Scott.
PLP backbencher Dale Butler, an MP since the PLP’s first electoral triumph in 1998, also lost out to Mark Pettingill in Warwick North East.
The OBA, fighting its first election, won the popular vote by a comfortable six-point margin, winning 52 percent of votes cast, compared to the PLP’s 46 percent, and independent candidates’ two percent.
The results suggested that the significant erosion in PLP support since 2007 was the key to the OBA’s victory. The PLP earned 14,218 votes, about 2,600 fewer than five years ago, while the OBA received 15,949 votes, nearly 800 more than the United Bermuda Party managed at the last election.
Voter turnout of 70.7 percent was significantly lower than the 75.8 percent seen in 2007.
Former United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan was the only independent to mount a serious challenge for a seat, gaining 23 percent of the vote in St George’s West, in the constituency that finally decided the election in the OBA’s favour.
“Strategically, a three-way race against the machineries of the two major parties always made this contest extremely difficult for an Independent,” Mr Swan said last night.
The erosion of PLP support was evident in the closeness of the contests in some seats regarded as PLP strongholds.
In Sandys North, for example, first-time candidate Ray Charlton, of the OBA, came within a whisker of ousting Minister of Government Estates and Information Services Michael Scott, who scaped home by eight votes in a seat he won by nearly 200 votes five years ago.
Andrew Simons came even closer to pulling off a sensation in Pembroke Central, but former PLP Senator Walton Brown eventually prevailed by six votes in a seat his party won by 131 votes in 2007.
The OBA’s Michael Dunkley won a return to the House of Assembly with an emphatic win against Patrice Minors — the candidate who humbled him at the polls in 2007 when he was the leader of the UBP, then the main Opposition party.
Mr Dunkley’s tally of 618 votes in Smith’s North was more than double what Ms Minors achieved. Last night he said he was “humbled” by the support he had received and added that he wanted to “meet with my colleagues when the final results are in, give them a hug, and talk about the hard work that lies ahead”.
The OBA’s finance spokesman Bob Richards had an interesting take on what that hard work will start with. “Job one?” Mr Richards said. “To find out what’s under the hood.”