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Election may create complex scenarios

By Monday night, Bermuda will be contemplating life under the political status quo, another general election early in the New Year or an unstable parliament.

Redrawn boundaries and the worst economic recession in living memory for the majority of voters make this poll a difficult one to call.

But in terms of possible outcomes, the possibilities are finite.

One possibility is that the status quo will be maintained — the Progressive Labour Party could win with a strong majority of seats in parliament.

Another possibility is that the One Bermuda Alliance could sweep the field with a strong majority and end the PLP’s 14-year run as Government.

Either one of those two options are easily handled under current constitutional arrangements.

Bermuda’s politics could however take a more interesting and complex turn — if either party wins with a tiny majority in the House of Assembly, say 19-17. Under this scenario, the party leader could be challenged to demonstrate that he or she commands the support of the majority in the House of Assembly — a requirement for being appointed Premier by the Governor.

All it would take is two MPs from the winning side to hold out on supporting their leader — and to indicate such to the Governor who has constitutional responsibility for appointing the Premier.

Under the Constitution, the Governor appoints as Premier whoever appears to command the majority of the House of Assembly.

PLP leader Paula Cox could be punished by her party for losing seats even if the party does win the election overall.

Similarly, under the scenario of a slim majority for the OBA, it is entirely possible that Craig Cannonier may struggle to demonstrate support of the majority in the House of Assembly if just two of the OBA MPs hold out.

Overcoming this hurdle would likely mean negotiations with the Opposition members. But if those negotiations fail — and with so much at stake politically there’s no good reason why they would succeed — the only real way forward would be to hold another election within weeks.

(According to the Constitution, the Governor may dissolve the legislature if the office of the Premier is vacant and there is little prospect of it being filled in a reasonable time.)

If the negotiations succeed, the country can be assured of instability at the helm of what would turn out to be Bermuda’s first coalition government.

A tie between the two parties could give the same result — a coalition or another election.

First, the Governor would have to appoint a Premier who he believed could hold a majority. If that can be accomplished, the next hurdle would be for the House of Assembly to appoint a Speaker.

But the problem for both parties is that whichever one the Speaker came from would instantly become the Opposition, so the likelihood is that no one would be nominated, making it impossible for the House of Assembly to conduct business.

If that deadlock was not broken, for example by an MP crossing the floor, it is possible the Governor would be forced to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

This particular scenario, however, would show up the weakness of the Constitution — a constitutional lacuna if you will — as the House of Assembly is required to elect a Speaker before any business can be done. The Constitution is silent on what happens if a Speaker cannot be elected.

Another scenario would be if one or two independents are voted in. Independents with the best chances of winning in their districts are Kim Swan, incumbent for St George’s West, Erwin Adderley who is contesting the Pembroke West seat, Charlie Swan, incumbent for Southampton West Central and Phil Perinchief who is running in Pembroke West Central.

All have public recognition and a fair amount of experience on the national and parochial stages.

Two independents in the House — with the parties splitting the rest of the seats equally — could end up holding the balance of power and effectively decide who becomes Government.

Picking the Speaker of the House of Assembly would be the next task.

Governor George Fergusson

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Published December 15, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated December 14, 2012 at 11:49 pm)

Election may create complex scenarios

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