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The die has been cast

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Well, as of Thursday, September 10, 2020, we are off and running to Bermuda's political sweepstakes. And already, without a shot being fired, the One Bermuda Alliance, as Her Majesty's Official Opposition — the government-in-waiting and all that jazz — has placed itself at an embarrassing political and psychological disadvantage with the early concession of three parliamentary seats to the governing Progressive Labour Party.

The OBA did so, as predicted two weeks ago, by not being able to cobble together enough people to run a full slate of 36 candidates.

It is clear that Craig Cannonier doesn't seem to understand the very profound fact that politics is very much a bloodless war. Anyone who doesn't appreciate this very simple truism ought not to be in politics. It's elementary, old boy.

The OBA was so desperate in its recruitment drive for candidates — especially after Cannonier implied that it was not necessary to roll out politicians because community people such as Thomas Harvey were engaged at the grassroots level and “that would work just fine” — that to scrape up 31 candidates, he had to go to the bottom of the barrel to find former United Bermuda Party and OBA politicians such as Charlie Swan, Jon Brunson, Jeff Sousa and Nick Kempe, the prodigal son returned home from Spain.

Mr Cannonier, concessions like three parliamentary seats, and the optics of desperation to run a full slate, is exceedingly bad form for the extremely serious game of running the Government of Bermuda in one of the most challenging times we have ever had to face.

Why wouldn't the discerning voter, the careful voter, say: “No, Craig. I don't think you have put together the team who could hold the weight and pull us through these life-altering challenges for the next few years. I just simply cannot take a chance by wasting a vote on you and the OBA.”

The new, 15-candidate Free Democratic Movement is somewhat a different matter. They were caught even more unprepared than the OBA and may be somewhat forgiven for not running a full slate of 36 candidates.

They appear, however, to have concentrated, rather curiously, approximately half their troops in Warwick and the western parishes. There is probably no rationale in the speculation that this is so because their leader, Marc Bean, is from the west of the island. And there probably is not much either in the speculation that because a certain clubhouse did not materialise when he was in the Progressive Labour Party, Mr Bean was now not popular in his old White Hill constituency.

Could it be that the thinking went, “For redemption, I should kind of stay west and go across the bridge for a bigger scalp in Constituency 36”? We just don't know. However, it is not speculation that because the FDM did not field candidates in constituencies 16, 17 and 26 that it, as with the OBA, denied the voters of these three constituencies a day out at the polls to at least have a look at this new party, and to measure its proponents.

This default on its part made instant MPs of Michael Weeks, Jason Hayward and Neville Tyrrell. Sixteen more seats and the PLP is the new government administration on Thursday, October 1, 2020. Not a good start, or look, for a new party. Why was there a rush to run candidates so prematurely? It takes at least 19 candidates to win government. Was there an expectation of a coalition government? If so, it is clear that no one in the FDM has had a look at Bermuda's political barometer, which recoils, balks even, at giving the OBA even a snowball's chance in hell at winning or coming close to winning the government on October 1.

Moreover, FDM, you are likely about to learn as well that politics is a chess game. You, as a result of conceding three seats to the PLP, have now unleashed the campaign troops from those freebie constituencies upon your leader in Constituency 36, who is trying to deny a seat to one of the PLP generals — a queen no less, the Attorney-General.

These PLP troops may be now deployed any and everywhere the FDM is running to make political life extremely difficult for you. Your debut at this time was most certainly ill-advised. Such a showing may haunt you and dog your steps for the rest of your political lives. The FDM ought to have awaited the moment when it had a full slate of 36 candidates, a completed and well-thought-through manifesto and a strategic plan for a robust entry upon the political landscape. Squeaking and sneaking in by parachute just doesn't cut it.

Post-election, there are going to be quite a few by-elections, I suspect. The FDM could, and should have, tested its political fortunes on those occasions, thereby better gauging the public's assessment. It also might have, via those experiences, picked up the missing 21 candidates it would require for a fully contested General Election.

Having said that, and given that Nomination Day, revealed each party's slate of candidates, faces and constituencies, where then do the political fortunes of each party lie up to and beyond October 1? For each party, what are the keys for victory or, more realistically, keys for survival? Inquiring minds want to know.

For the PLP, the keys for victory have been helped tremendously by a gift of three seats. It should, under the guidance of the local PLP branch troops, deploy the green-shirted “guest” troops from the three freebie constituencies of 16, 17 and 26 throughout Constituency 36 in sufficient numbers and on house-to-house missions to assist, not overwhelm, candidate Kathy Lynn Simmons, and send FDM leader Marc Bean and Jeff Sousa, of the OBA, along their way.

In any election being run under the first-past-the-post electoral process, and in a constituency running more than two candidates, in particular, capturing 50 per cent of that constituency's electorate plus one vote will see off your opponents quite spectacularly.

Of course, the Attorney-General should be looking to distribute the PLP manifesto of policies and achievements and to canvass every voter, perhaps twice, to win convincingly. The remaining “green shirts” may then be sent off to other marginal constituencies to paint them green and to thwart the political chances of the OBA and FDM in those constituencies.

Deployed properly, with their voters voting “solid green”, I reckon the PLP commander-in-chief and his troops should capture between 27 and 29 parliamentary seats on Election Day.

For the OBA and the FDM, we are speaking of the keys for survival. I have looked at a number of scenarios for them, and there is simply no obvious or clear pathway for victory. Given the undemocratic nature of “safe seats” in Bermuda, the OBA will hold on to five or six seats and may capture two or three marginals.

Its strategy for these two or three seats will rest almost entirely on the effectiveness of the FDM candidates in wresting critical votes from disaffected PLP voters, thus reducing votes for the PLP candidate and giving the win to the OBA candidate. The reverse is not likely in the cards.

Accordingly, the OBA, like the PLP, while having no difficulty getting its traditional voter to “vote OBA”, needs to strategise by promising the FDM to incorporate certain aspects of the FDM's education manifesto, for example, into an OBA administration.

For the FDM, Mr Bean needs to win Constituency 36 or suffer complete inertia post-Election Day. To be frank, I do not envision the FDM having a ghost of a chance in capturing one solitary seat anywhere in this General Election. They are late out of the stables and to date have precious little at levels and numbers where it matters, by way of expertise or experience, to offer to the legacy parties even in a coalition.

Should Mr Bean miraculously win his seat, and to do so he has to demonstrate to Constituency 36 voters that he and his party as constituted at present can implement or influence the winning party to implement FDM policies going forward, he will have scored at best only a pyrrhic victory.

The FDM is not a fully consummated party ready to govern or, indeed, ready to lead. Mr Bean will, if successful, have the influence of the sole voice of an independent in a House of Assembly likely filled with hostile or suspicious PLP members.

Would Constituency 36 voters wish to take that kind of a risk, or gamble, by electing Marc Bean? I think not. Unless, of course, these voters believe that the PLP will have enough seats to ring-fence Mr Bean in Parliament and they wish to hear another voice in addition to their own PLP.

Those sentiments aside for the moment, if the FDM is to survive at all, Mr Bean will have to canvass and persuade more than 600 voters in the very few days remaining to vote him in — in the wake of a Category 2 hurricane disruption, with a bigger one on its way.

It is an understatement to say that he has a gargantuan task ahead of him. Should Mr Bean lose, the FDM will fall along the wayside and quickly vanish into thin air without a trace. Gone and soon forgotten.

Political hara-kiri at its finest. Casualties of political naivety. Those are the stakes we see in this General Election. Let's see how it all plays out in the days ahead.

Philip Perinchief was the Attorney-General under the Progressive Labour Party government between October 2006 and December 2007

Collecting votes: 2020 Nomination Day for the October 1 General Election (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Philip Perinchief was the Attorney-General under the Progressive Labour Party government between October 2006 and December 2007

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Published September 18, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 18, 2020 at 8:59 am)

The die has been cast

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