A warning from the voters
Recently, a significant political event took place in the Caribbean nation of Barbados — coincidentally on May 24. If my view is correct, it has profound implications for Bermuda. There was an absolute trouncing of the incumbent political party with a spectacular, unanimous victory of the opposition party in the Barbadian general elections. Of the 30 parliamentary seats available, the Opposition took them all and now sits in their House of Assembly virtually “unopposed”.
My reflections, as you may expect, are because of what just happened in our recent election and by-elections. Allow me to pause for a moment to thank all of the candidates in the by-elections who represented themselves and their parties well over the past month. I also congratulate Scott Pearman for holding on to Constituency 22 and to the Progressive Labour Party’s Curtis Dickinson for winning Constituency 25.
The One Bermuda Alliance lost convincingly in the General Election almost a year ago. Now that has been compounded by having lost one of the seats vacated by Grant Gibbons and Jeff Baron.
As expected, if I am observing it correctly, the standard political playbook is being used to play down the importance of the loss by the OBA and, for the PLP, it means staying on the same course with full steam ahead.
However, this is the genesis of the fatal mistake that leads to the type of result that occurred in Barbados.
The Barbados election result, incidentally, is not an isolated incident in the Caribbean. It has also occurred in other elections in the region. Christopher Famous highlighted these facts in one of his opinions recently. In the March 2018 elections in Grenada, one party took all 15 seats available. It happened there in 1999 and 2013 as well. In addition, in March this year, one party in Antigua and Barbuda won 15 of the 17 seats available. Additionally, the 2017 Bahamas elections resulted in one party winning with 35 seats to four seats for the other party.
These landslide results are usually seen only in sham elections in such countries where there is a supreme leader or dictator. This is not the norm in jurisdictions where the voters are freely able to express their discontent or approval at the ballot box.
You may be asking, what does any of this have to do with Bermuda? Absolutely nothing, if we choose to bury our heads in the sand. However, if we acknowledge that we are part of a wider intertwined world, where we are impacted and stand to gain or lose to the extent that we learn from what is going on around us, it has everything to do with us.
This is increasingly becoming the world of the “independent voter”. People are demanding results from their political leaders. Voters are no longer being pacified by slogans and empty campaign promises. They will not remain stuck in the cycle of “race politics” or blind party loyalty. They want to know that when they go to the polls, their vote will make a difference and bring about real and positive changes in their lives. As a result, they are more likely to vote for someone they have never voted for before. Voters may even choose instead to have their collective sting felt by their absence at the ballot box.
This trend is also showing itself in other ways. We are seeing elections where it is becoming harder and harder to poll and predict the outcome. America, and most of the world, is still reeling from Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. Britain is grappling with the social and economic terms of Brexit and the unexpected vote to leave the European Union. The so-called “populist” movement in the United States, and increasingly throughout Europe, is nothing more than what we see happening in the Caribbean. Let us not forget the shocker — for many — that happened here at home in the 2012 election. These examples represent people turning away from party loyalty to cast in their lot with political parties who appeal to what matters to them most or to abandon those political parties that they have traditionally supported.
So to our very own PLP in power today, I contend that the political momentum is on your side. However, when you abuse that momentum and use it viciously to attack the judiciary — specifically, the incoming and outgoing chief justice, when the flames of racial strife are stoked and fanned, when you disingenuously raise the prospect of pursuing independence — there will be a price to be paid.
The voters will take note of the cost of living rise as a result of the sugar tax, they will be looking at the cost of running the Government with an increase in government expenses. The voters have taken note of the payment to Ewart Brown’s businesses and they see that there has been mostly a continuation of OBA policies. The voters recognise that the very projects that you vociferously opposed are the very projects that are holding our economy together.
The voters are tuned into the words of PLP Cabinet ministers who have the potential significantly to reduce the foreign investment that is needed in our island. More than a decade ago, the late Julian Hall described one of the ministers as a “public relations train wreck in slow motion”. If the same minister is allowed to continue with that vitriol because of weak leadership, there is the possibility of another mass exodus of expatriates off the island.
The electorate is learning and adapting, and cannot be fooled or manipulated without consequence. Voters are more informed than ever before, equipped with social media and an array of means of communication. The era of “we don’t care what you think” politics is coming to a close. If I am correct, what this boils down to is that both partys are being “weighed in the balance”. The voters’ judgment will be increasingly on their track record and not the slight-of-hand of clever PR, blind loyalty and party politics.
In closing, it is time for the OBA to dust themselves off after the devastating election and by-election results. It is time to stand up and face the PLP by being vocal on any number of serious issues that arise almost weekly.
It is time to lose the ideology that has lost every election from 1998, with the exception of the voters staying home in 2012. It’s time to present a party that reflects the views and the will of the people. Then and only then will our nation benefit from a party that is truly putting Bermudians first.
•Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017