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Turnout crucial to by-election result

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Close battle: three quarters of constituency 13’s voters went to the polls in the 2012 General Election that kept PLP incumbent Glenn Blakeney as MP over OBA challenger Anthony Francis

Voter turnout is tipped to be the decisive factor today, as the 1,300 voters of Devonshire North Central choose either a Bermuda Government or Opposition candidate to represent them.

Diallo Rabain, the Progressive Labour Party’s contender, is up against Andrew Simons of the One Bermuda Alliance, in a district that both have had less than two months to canvass.

Speaking at the polling station this morning, both candidates were encouraged by the fair weather and “steady stream” of voters through the early part of the day.

Mr Rabain told The Royal Gazette: “One of the things I can say I’m very pleased with his how many young people we’ve counted. A special moment was I got a picture with a family with two first-time voters, a son and a daughter.

“We often hear about young people not being engaged and not being a part of the process. It’s just a matter of talking to them and getting them to understand their role and their responsibility in voting and how their voice can be heard through this process. I think we’re going to see the fruits of those labours come out today when we see these young people come out and express their opinion.”

Mr Simons said: “It’s been nice to have a brief chat. There’s some people I hadn’t seen before, but I’ve spoken to on the phone, so it’s been nice to put a face to a name.

“People are by and large quite encouraging. It’s humbling because you knock on a door sometimes three or four times. When you finally reach someone they let you into their house. They could be in a nightgown, they could just have walked in with groceries and people give you time. They know that the vote is important.”

Three quarters of constituency 13’s voters went to the polls in the 2012 General Election that kept PLP incumbent Glenn Blakeney as MP after a close battle with OBA challenger Anthony Francis.

Mr Francis has said that he maintained a presence in Devonshire North Central in the three years since. Mr Blakeney, with work and family commitments, stepped down in December 2015.

Asked for his prediction, political observer Charles Jeffers felt the by-election was most likely to go to Mr Rabain, but said the Opposition’s recent internal struggles over leadership could hurt the PLP’s chances.

“If there’s a good turnout, I would say it’s because of the candidates, not the party,” the former leader of the National Liberal Party said. “Of course, the PLP are going to push as hard as they can to retain that seat. The problem is that if they win, especially with a sizeable majority of the voters, it could make the leadership think they are on the right track and that people support them.”

The demoting of rebel PLP MPs opposed to the leadership of Marc Bean, which this week included the removal of Walton Brown and Wayne Furbert from the Boundaries Commission, might leave voters feeling as if they had “no real say”, he suggested.

Saying he sensed that many voters felt that “the party thing is not working”, Mr Jeffers added: “That means you might as well vote for whatever person can best lift their voice inside the party on behalf of your constituency.

“There has always been this problem within the PLP of a small group who has control and power at the time and have little regard for the opinions of other people. The party has its position and you dare not object. I’m not saying the OBA does not have the same problem, but for some reason they are able to keep things under wraps.

“If the OBA wins, and even only by a slim majority, they could say it means people think they’re doing a pretty good job. And it might not be so. In 2012, PLP voters stayed at home.”

Fourteen people, mainly voters who would be travelling, have already cast their ballots at the January 28 advanced polls. Attendance today is likely to play a crucial role in whether Opposition expectations are borne out at the ballot box in National Stadium pavilion, where voting will take place from 8am to 8pm.

Mr Jeffers said an upset victory for the OBA could come to pass if PLP supporters were of a mindset that “I’m not going to vote for the other guy, but I’m vexed at the party. If I were to take a guess, I’d say we would be lucky to get 50 per cent of the people out,” he said. “A bigger turnout would cement it for the PLP, but a small turnout would favour OBA more.”

Follow The Royal Gazette’s by-election coverage online by selecting Cover-It-Live at our homepage

PLP contender: Diallo Rabain (File photograph)
In the running: Andrew Simons of the One Bermuda Alliance (File photograph by Akil Simmons)
Progressive Labour Party members at the by-election polling station today, including Glenn Blakeney, the outgoing MP (third right), and MP Wayne Furbert (third left). (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)