Independents believe their time has come
Is it a movement that’s here to stay — or an aberration? Independent general election candidates are convinced that their time has come and Bermuda is witnessing the beginning of the end of politics as we know it.
The reason for this, they say, is that the two-party Westminster system is unsuited for Bermuda and deeply flawed. And the record number of independent candidates should give the parties pause to and change their approach to elections in the future.
David Tavares, a former branch chairman for the United Bermuda Party insists that 44 years of party politics has done nothing to heal the Island’s racial divide, but served to concentrate power in the hands of a few individuals.
The 1998 elections, which ended the UBP’s 30 year reign, merely started another cycle of more of the same, he argued.
“The electorate can no longer afford to put the majority of seats into the hands of one political party so that they and their supporters can be rewarded through a ‘pecking order’ thereby enjoy the spoils of victory,” he said in an e-mail to
The Royal Gazette.
“We must have representation that affords all the people of Bermuda equal and equitable opportunity at the same time. Having 52 percent of the electorate enjoying the rewards of victory at the expense of the other 42 percent somehow needs to change. Surely, isn’t 100 percent performance better than 52 percent?”
While some independents want to see structural reform of the political system, such as a move to a proportional representation electoral system, Mr Tavares views the participation of independents as transformative in itself.
“An independent brings to the table a new perspective. He or she will be a strong voice for all of the people and will work harder. After all, given our current system, we have seen that the opposition is powerless, even with 14 seats and has cost taxpayers millions. Your independent will seek out alternatives and solutions to our problems on a unilateral basis. Now that is value for money.”
But independents have traditionally been given short shrift by the Bermudian voter. Environmentalist Stuart Hayward, who made it into parliament in the 1980s, is a rare exception.
“History is being made in Bermuda. Never before have we experienced 15 independent candidates for an election. Clearly there exists a movement which will transcend political party lines and will continue beyond the election,” contends Mr Tavares.
“On the doorstep people want a better alternative and agree that party politics has created enormous unintended consequences.”
Independents bring value by not being tied to a party line, according to Mr Tavares. “Representation at all levels with a centrist view is far more democratic than the political process we experience today.”
Some would argue that it is the political parties which have become more centrist and that the independents bring a broader range of ideological choices to the table which has not been possible when left to the parties alone.
The platforms for both parties contain considerable overlap and broadly similar policies in tackling the major issues of crime, the economy and education.
Phil Perinchief, on the other hand, has long trumpeted a minimum wage, income tax and other progressive policies that never took centre stage in the playbook of the Progressive Labour Party once it became the Government 14 years ago.
“The unprecedented number of independents in this election is symptomatic or indicative of the much awaited breakthrough of that heretofore ‘collective third non-partisan voice,’” is how Mr Perinchief explains the record number of independent candidates.
“Bermuda politics has finally matured to the point where many people are no longer accepting at face value, or at all, the respective party lines of the mainstream parties.
“In short, these parties are losing their grip on the monopoly they once had over how the populace at large wishes to solve or address the challenges that face them, personally and nationally.”
To be sure the rise of the independents is driven in part by the stresses within the two political forces. Several of the independent candidates, like Mr Tavares, Erwin Adderley and Kim Swan are former UBP stalwarts, while others like Mr Perinchief and Jonathan Starling had, until very recently, been aligned with the PLP.
Mr Perinchief believes that the parties are faced with a crisis of confidence and voters are also beginning to act independently, and choosing to support the other side or an independent. In response parties will have to “broaden their reach and scope” to include “progressive programmes and policies” of the independents.
“All in all this trend is a refreshing and maturing one for Bermudian democracy and should be encouraged in order to banish forever ‘politics as usual’. Coalition or consensual government and proportional representation with true foundations of ‘one person, one vote of equal value’ should be the goals.”
Charles Jeffers, who once headed the National Liberal Party, Bermuda’s only third party with some viability, believes that the political parties will have to change their approach for future elections, and focus on candidate quality instead of the party.
But that depends on how seriously the voters take the independents in this election campaign. Gershwyn “High Priest Shiloh” Smith told a press conference that “being realistic” he was sure to get 99 percent of the votes in Hamilton South. This is his seventh attempt at elective office.
Jonathan Starling, a candidate with a socialist leaning platform, is asking voters of Pembroke South West — a relatively affluent district — to send him to parliament.
“There are some, mostly self-identified OBA supporters, who are more hostile, who think that by running I'm going to split the vote and help the PLP win in 20,” Mr Starling said.
“I respond to them by saying that I'm running to win, not to split votes. Also, there have been a surprising number of constituents who say they've never voted before due to a lack of choice, but this election they plan to vote for either me or the other independent, because now they have a choice.
“Almost every constituent, whether they're supporting me or not, has said that they're happy that they're not being taken for granted anymore, and that they feel they have four very good candidates to choose from.”