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Bermuda’s democracy: substantive, partial or flawed?

Political regimes: an ensemble of patterns within a state that determine forms and strategies of access to the process of decision making. Actors who are excluded/admitted and the rules that determine how decisions are legitimately made (Bertrand, University of Toronto, 2021)

Democratic deficit: the gap between the political institutions and their policymaking to the citizens and their ability to influence them(Bertrand, University of Toronto, 2021)

Bermuda Youth Connect’s long-term mission is to fundamentally change and address the civic participation gap in the country, as our existing curriculums do very little to give young people language and knowledge to conceive everyday issues as connected to politics.

In its simplest form, a democracy is a government of the people. It is a government that holds regular “free and fair elections, upholds the rights of its citizens under the rule of law, and has government turnovers”. (Tull, 2021). In Bermuda, we follow the Westminster system of democracy. Modelled after the British Parliament, the Westminster system has two houses — government and opposition — made up of politicians elected by the general population. The party with the most representatives becomes the government and elects a leader who then appoints ministers to serve the country. There are many varieties of democracy. However, democracy is measured and evaluated as substantive, partial or flawed.

Is Bermuda’s democracy in practice substantive, partial or flawed?

Substantive democracy is grounded in many principles, especially elections that represent the people. Bermuda’s existing electoral structure does not meet the criteria of a substantive democracy. For example, disenfranchised groups within our community are constantly overlooked, especially young people. A large portion of young voters are not familiar with political processes and do not engage with current events that impact their future. This disconnect is rooted in our government’s failure to invite proper discourse, engagement and opportunities for young people to connect with them.

As time progresses, the gap between Bermudian voters and the Government will only widen. We have seen the difference in voter turnout between 2017 and 2020 — a decline of 8,305 voters, which is more than 12 per cent of our population. Furthermore, our democratic infrastructure is outdated. When canvassing, politicians avoid certain areas within constituencies based on voting history and racial demographics. These targeted political practices further isolate sectors of the community and only amplify structural issues such as race in Bermuda. Both parties practice these tactics and do not represent what young people see as authentic engagement with constituent representatives and constituents.

Young people are actively engaged online with social-justice and lifestyle issues. This is where engagement between young people and our political leaders should occur. However, out of 36 Members of Parliament, only 19 have public accounts online. And of those 19, very few are active, diminishing an opportunity to engage with young Bermudians. Adjustments to approaches in social media and canvassing could be the first steps to move Bermuda forward towards a more substantive democracy.

Substantive democracy also includes the progression of laws and regulations. As the views and needs of citizens change, laws that govern the state should change as well. However, in Bermuda, we are plagued with outdated laws and policies. For example, married people in Bermuda are discouraged from filing for divorce if their marriage has been less than three years.

Although British laws, including on same-sex marriage, have been updated, Bermuda has not shown the same progression. Moreover, the Privy Council recently ruled favouring the Government’s homophobic position. Policies related to same-sex marriage, abortion and even policing have failed to address the present needs of Bermuda. With this in mind, how can we have confidence in Bermuda’s democratic processes? Or is this evidence of a democratic deficit? (Refer to the definition above).

The issues discussed in this article are not exclusive to Bermuda; they are quite common in liberal democracies, particularly those with Westminster systems. We invite young people to connect the Westminster system to the democratic deficit and consider what democracy would look like in its richest, most substantive form. Furthermore, we encourage readers to think about democracy as something to participate in and not just something to “suck ya teeff” to.


Bertrand, Dr Jacques. 2021. “Authoritarian/Democracy Lecture.” POL218: State Society & Power (University of Toronto).

Palacio, Maya. 2020. Ghosted By Government. Bermudian Politician social media analytics, Hamilton: Media Maya. http://media-maya.com/2020/12/31/ghosted-by-government-you-voted-now-is-your-mp-accessible-to-you-are-they-active-on-instagram-or-twitter/.

Tull, Tierrai. 2021. "POL218 State Society & Power ." University of Toronto student notes 75.

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Published April 18, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated April 16, 2022 at 10:39 pm)

Bermuda’s democracy: substantive, partial or flawed?

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