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A pivotal election

Politicians are famous for describing a general election as the most important ever.

Often this is hyperbole. But today’s general election really is important.

For the first time since 1998, voters go to the polls facing the real possibility that Bermuda could have a change of government.

And the reason for that is that the challenges facing the Island are among the toughest in recent memory.

With the economy in the worst condition it has been in since the Great Depression and with Bermuda’s economy lagging behind almost all other developed nations, Bermudians are suffering economically in a way that was almost unimaginable five years ago.

Bermuda’s public finances are also in their worst condition ever, with debt of $1.4 billion and falling tax revenues squeezing the Government’s ability to help the people who need it most.

Bermuda has also experienced the worst upsurge in violent crime and gang violence it has ever seen.

It’s no surprise that the governing Progressive Labour Party has avoided talking about its record in those two areas, instead trumpeting social programmes like Future Care.

It has to be noted that the PLP was warned about the recession and the risk that it could be very serious. But the party, including Finance Minister Paula Cox, who is now the Premier, first denied the recession (having previously denied that Bermuda’s economy was overheating) and then, when the writing was on the wall, downplayed its severity and consistentently did too little too late to reverse the decline. As a result, things have gotten consistently worse.

An estimated ten percent of Bermudians are unemployed. A further 15 percent are under-employed. Around 3,000 jobs have disappeared from the economy, and the spending which would have flowed from those jobs is also gone. It would appear that about the same number of people have also left Bermuda entirely, again doing severe damage to the economy.

The PLP has also been disappointingly sketchy in terms of how it plans to bring the Island out of a recession that is now in its fourth year.

Although there are some sensible measures, much of it consists of hopes for foreign investment from the Middle East and undeveloped ideas like the blue economy.

If a positive election campaign is one in which a party focuses on its programme and plans, then the PLP’s campaign has been very negative and has consisted mainly of attacks on the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance (OBA).

Although it did not plumb the depths of negative campaigning reached by the PLP in 2007, the campaign has still been shallow and issue-free, a sad indictment of a party elected with such high hopes 14 years ago.

The PLP did score some points with its criticism of the so-called secret report, and the poorly handled response of the OBA to it.

But this seems to have failed to divert attention from the economy and the need for jobs.

Overall, the OBA has run a solid campaign in which it has produced new ideas and a more realistic and focused programme for economic recovery, the centrepiece of which is the suspension of term limits and the payroll tax break for employers hiring Bermudians into new jobs. Those two measures alone should start to generate the employment Bermuda needs. The PLP does not have a similar plan of action.

To be sure, if voters do support the OBA, they are taking a leap of faith in supporting a new party. Many of its candidates are new, and few have experience in government.

But voters have to weigh that against the record of the PLP’s last five years, and determine whether a new government can do any worse.

A voter heads into the Hamilton East polling station during the 2007 general election

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Published December 17, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated December 17, 2012 at 12:07 am)

A pivotal election

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