Tensions could rise to ‘explosive’ levels
We've watched at a safe distance as political friction has dominated the headlines in the United States and Britain over the past year. In the second of a three-part series, we ask political commentators whether we can expect the same on these shores as Bermuda prepares for its General Election
You thought the past few months were tense? Wait until you see what 2017 brings.
With frustration among the poorest section of society showing no signs of easing, it will not take much, according to some, to trigger more of the public flashpoints that Bermuda has frequently witnessed in recent times.
The bad news for anyone hoping Bermuda can calmly navigate its way through a General Election year, political commentator Phil Perinchief believes, is that the parties themselves will not be afraid to light the blue touchpaper.
Continued social and economic disparities along racial grounds, and discontent with the performance of the One Bermuda Alliance and Progressive Labour Party set the stage for a difficult year ahead, Mr Perinchief says.
An eagerness by both parties to manipulate power, as well as the ability to spread false truths through social media, means tensions could reach even greater heights than previous Bermuda election campaigns.
Mr Perinchief, a former PLP and Independent candidate, and former United Bermuda Party and Independent candidate David Sullivan shared their thoughts with The Royal Gazette as the clock begins to count down towards an election that must happen by May 2018.
“The tensions surrounding the next General Election will run at unprecedented, even potentially explosive, levels,” Mr Perinchief said.
“Both parties have been seduced by the use and manipulation of power for good and otherwise. Both parties have had the political bit in their teeth and they relish the prospect of repeating the experience.”
Over the past two years, hundreds have taken to the streets to protest the OBA's proposed Pathways to Status legislation, airport redevelopment plan and furlough days for public service workers.
Numbers were significantly down this month when the People's Campaign tried to rally support for the Reverend Nicholas Tweed's work permit bid, but are expected to return to previous levels when the House of Assembly tackles the airport project on February 3.
Explaining why he believes the OBA will continue to get a rough ride, Mr Perinchief said: “Much of the tension will be as a result of the disappointments with what was perceived by many supporters, and otherwise, of the OBA's failure to deliver on its 2012 election promises.
“Where are the 2,000 jobs, for example? Some people actually believed five years ago the hype and myth that if you could run a successful business, a one-person or multiple-person entity mattered not, then you could run a successful government. Many others have been brutally disabused and dispossessed of that notion, and are now at sea as to how, or upon what criteria besides gut reaction and traditional allegiance, they should vote.
“Others still are disappointed with the PLP's lacklustre and uninspiring performances both within and without Parliament. Where are their alternate programmes for progress?
“Yet still more people are frustrated to witness an improved economy but no visible change in their individual circumstances.
“Much of the economic improvement and benefits are seen by a large number of black people as going to whites who traditionally have wealth, blacks who kowtow or kiss up to the white establishment, newly minted status-holders who were foreigners yesterday and the Portuguese community, who are thought by some to traditionally swing both ways depending on how the political winds blow.”
White commercial dominance has increased in areas such as Dockyard, Flatts and parts of St George's, Mr Perinchief said, while blacks are experiencing job losses, home foreclosures and “economic extradition in droves”, mainly to British welfare rolls.
“It is clear to these people that the trickle-down economic model for doing business in Bermuda does not trickle down far or fast enough, nor in sufficient quantity for those who are suffering,” he said.
“This view of the matter only brings into clear view and focus the deep divide and polarisation by race and class characteristic of present-day Bermuda.
“This distinction increases the tensions and sets the stage for the socially and politically explosive concoction.”
Mr Sullivan predicted social media would play a significant role in Bermuda, as it did in election campaigns internationally over the past 12 months.
“There is the possibility for higher tension. What you will see is a dramatic increase of social media in our next election,” he said.
“It is a great harbour of absolutely inaccurate storytelling. Some would say lies. The internet and social media, in all its forms, still has for many a romantic sense about it. This is due to its somewhat instantaneous ability to relate information, good and bad.
“The broadcasting of untruths, false news, if you will, can certainly charge emotions of those not prepared to investigate further and believe something because 'I read it on Facebook'.
“In addition the calibre of elections in general and the widely accepted mistrust of politicians helps to exacerbate the low expectation that somehow it needs to be salacious for a perverse entertainment and interest value.
“Additionally, the ethics of many politicians are brought into question as their behaviour and electioneering promises seem to support 'whatever it takes' to get elected.
“Given these types of behaviours and expectations ever present in modern-day elections, the voters are well to be reminded: caveat emptor.”
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