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When fixed-term elections lose their appeal

Fixed-term elections sound good, Mr Editor — at least I've always thought so. Their appeal is that they go some way to taking the politics out of calling elections. Everyone knows the date, and those in power no longer have the unfair advantage of selecting a day that they believe gives them maximum electoral advantage. That's the theory anyhow.

Reality can be different — as they are now finding out in Canada. The reigning Conservative Party, which delivered on its promise to introduce fixed-term elections, still took what advantage it could by seeking dissolution of its House on the Hill in Ottawa 78 days in advance of polling day. Yes, that's right, people: a 2½-month election campaign. Mind you, that's nothing compared with the United States (who can Trump that?) but 78 days is still nonetheless long by most standards.

But why so long? Speculation has it that the Conservatives have a far bigger war chest than any of their opponents, maybe even combined, and thus can sustain a far-reaching advertising campaign, which will also be far more effective in winning over voters.

Hmmm, another lesson? An even playing field means campaign finance must also be addressed. The first is to fix the length of time from the date of issue of the election writ to polling day and pretty well bring an end to all suspense and political intrigue.

No one seems to be buying the theoretical argument that a longer campaign will give the parties and their candidates far greater opportunity to canvas and persuade voters on the issues. On the contrary: there is a concern that a longer and keenly contested campaign will invariably feature a longer period of negative and bitter personal attacks (they have already begun) which will make it even that much more difficult for the winners and losers to work together after the vote.

Work together? Now there's a thought, fanciful as it may seem. But it happens.

Readers may recall the Election Committee that our House on the Hill put together about two years ago. There were some contentious issues, yes, which made for lively debate, but there was also, believe it or not, broad agreement on the need for reform.

The committee reported a year-and-a-half ago on what it thought needed to be done — and, remember, this was a parliamentary committee headed by an Opposition MP (Walton Brown) but made up of backbenchers from both sides of the aisle. The committee's report and recommendations, by the way, are posted and still available for review on the Legislature's website: www.parliament.bm.

Members called for an overhaul of the 1978 Parliamentary Election Act and the establishment of an Electoral Commission to tackle some key outstanding issues:

• Absentee balloting

• Continued maintenance of an accurate voting register

• Electronic voting

• Adjudication of disputes that invariably arise from time to time

Readers will remember that the introduction of absentee balloting was an election promise of the One Bermuda Alliance, along with fixed-term elections, a right of recall for voters on MPs, along with a right to initiate referendums.

It's a growing list to which we can also add the following:

• Greater clarity on that controversial matter of what interests in government contracts must be disclosed by candidates

• Election campaign advertising — broadcast and print

• Campaign finance

It's quite the list. But what stands out is that the need for reform was recognised and embraced by both parties. That's a good foundation on which to build, Mr Editor, and the clock is ticking. The next election — if the One Bermuda Alliance sticks to its promise of a fixed term — is a little more than two years away.

It would be nice to have these issues put to bed and well before the next vote is upon us — and what a welcome change that will be, don't you think-

The Canadian parliament in Ottawa

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Published August 28, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated August 28, 2015 at 12:57 am)

When fixed-term elections lose their appeal

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