Historic election for Island
Bermudians head to polling stations today in a historic general election that both parties feel confident of winning.
Today’s poll is the first to be held under redrawn constituency boundaries since the single seat electoral system was introduced in 2003, the first to be held without the United Bermuda Party and the first to have as many as 15 independent candidates seeking office since the advent of party politics 50 years ago.
And the election is also taking place in the context of the worst economic recession in living memory for most of the 43,767 voters who are registered to cast their ballots today.
A total of 87 candidates are hoping to be make it into the House of Assembly — 48 of them have never served as parliamentarians before. At least eight of the 48 would be neophytes will make it into parliament.
Both parties have presented broadly similar proposals and have vowed to tackle unemployment as a priority if elected.
And both have sought to tarnish the credibility of the other in marathon campaigning that started months before the Premier’s announcement of the election date last month.
The new boundaries, which were redrawn two years ago but came into effect when the election writ was dropped has radically changed the electoral map leaving only one district, the marginal St George’s West, with the same boundaries it had in 2003 and 2007.
Even Devonshire North West, handily won by the Premier in 2007 with 70 percent of the vote, cannot be regarded as such a sure PLP win this time around. Redistricting saw it gain almost 200 voters from Devonshire South Central, an Opposition stronghold, and 352 voters from Devonshire North Central which was won by the PLP in 2007 with only 53 percent of the vote.
How these factors play out in selecting the next government will be apparent tonight when the final tally is completed.
While at least three surveys indicate that the Opposition One Bermuda Alliance has a lead over the Progressive Labour Party island-wide, as of last week there was a relatively high number of undecided voters.
And under the first past the post system a majority of votes Island-wide does not always translate into a majority of seats in the House of Assembly.
The 2007 election handed 22 seats to the PLP and 14 to the United Bermuda Party, but the political landscape has since changed considerably with the implosion of the UBP, the formation of two political parties — one of which was dissolved to make way for a new Official Opposition and two MPs switching their allegiance to the governing party.
By the time parliament was dissolved in early November, the PLP held 24 seats, the OBA 10 and two seats were held by Kim Swan and Charlie Swan who served out the term as UBP MPs but are contesting today’s poll as independents.
The governing party has made much of a consultant’s post 2007 election report which suggested to the UBP that “black surrogates” should have been used in place of the then leader Michael Dunkley, and that the party should undergo a rebranding which would involve creating another party.
The OBA’s handling of the “secret report” controversy left it open to charges of a cover-up despite the fact that three of its candidates were named on the report’s cover and at least one of them — OBA candidate Michael Dunkley — had publicly acknowledged its existence in a 2009 interview.
OBA leader Craig Cannonier’s refusal to entertain questions about the matter at a press conference left some questioning his leadership ability. The OBA eventually released a statement which acknowledged the report and continued to refuse to answer questions about its relationship with its author.
The OBA has also to be concerned about a possible legal challenge which could see two of its candidates disqualified for allegedly not declaring interests as mandated.
The governing party has also insisted that it is the best party to guide Bermuda through the recession which it argued could have been much worse had it not been for its economic policies. And it has attacked the OBA for “flip-flopping” and claimed that the Opposition would make drastic cuts in social programmes if it wins power.
The OBA has focused its campaign on the state of the economy, a $1.4 billion national debt and joblessness, while suggesting things could be worse than the governing party has revealed.
Neither party has made concrete commitments on reducing the debt anytime soon, but both have presented job creation proposals.
And the PLP has had its share of embarrassing moments during the seven week campaign. Its relentless attacks on the OBA “cover-up” of the “secret plan” appeared to some as a tactic of distraction.
Three of its candidates withdrew after being announced — one of them, Makai Dickerson, two months after being arrested for possession of marijuana.
But the PLP stood by Mr Dickerson although party leaders only learned of his September arrest two months later.
Mr Dickerson eventually resigned of his own accord, the media was told in a PLP statement.
Last night Premier Paula Cox made a last-minute appeal to the voters saying her government had done much to tackle unemployment, protect the vulnerable and bring new business to Bermuda’s shores but that more work needed to be done.
“Over the last month our opponents have made many big promises and have reversed their positions on numerous occasions. This inconsistency has lead to confusion in the minds of many voters. But what worries me the most, is that our opponents have a drastically different vision — one that will move our country backwards by making painful cuts to that programmes that our seniors, students, and working families require,” the Premier said.
She continued: “From the constantly shifting and contradictory positions, their cover up of the UBP’s Secret Plan to their wilful disregard of the laws governing candidate eligibility, there are many questions surrounding the OBA. Openness, transparency and the ability to stand strong on their beliefs do not seem to be things that come easily to that organisation. Bermuda demands and deserves better.
“This election represents a clear choice
“With your support, we will build on the work that we have done to ensure that this Island’s prosperity is enjoyed by all of our people. Our platform lays out a vision for the future that transforms our infrastructure and ensures that our young people have the training and education they need to compete for the jobs of the future. Our vision is a Bermuda that leads not only the region, but the world in clean energy and sustainability. We will bring more competition to our island which will provide lower costs and better service for Bermudians.”
OBA leader Craig Cannonier told
The Royal Gazette he was confident of victory today.
“The OBA is confident we will win the trust of the people of Bermuda to form the next Government. The Government has waged a negative campaign, focused exclusively on attacking the OBA,” he said in a prepared statement last night.
“Our campaign has been based on the facts of life in Bermuda today — on the more than 10,000 Bermudians who are unemployed or underemployed, the continuing violence and a $1.5 billion debt that is crippling our ability to help people today, for years to come — and the need for change.
“To all the major challenges facing Bermuda today, we have put forward concrete solutions to make the Island work better for our people.
“Our Jobs and Economic Turnaround Plan will grow 2,000 jobs for Bermudians and to set the stage for long-term economic stability and growth.
“Our crime reduction plans include Operation Ceasefire to stop the shootings and the killings and community crime-mapping to help people live with a greater sense of security.
“We have put forward comprehensive plans to truly reform public education, including the implementation of a fully integrated technical curriculum starting in middle schools so students are able to start a productive career when they graduate from secondary school.
“The Government has not provided the answers people need. We have, and that is why we are confident of an election victory.”
Cornell Fubler, independent candidate in St George’s North said the unprecedented number of independents on the ballot box today is the result of deep seated frustrations with both political parties.
“Many of us can see that after 40 years of employing the polarisation strategy, our country is more divided than ever before and we have deep seeded issues that transcends generations,” he said in an e-mail.
“Many will put this down to the PLP but I put the blame at the feet of both parties as they have done a good job of fanning the flame and then have the nerve to call each other out on it as if they are not engaging in divisiveness themselves.
“People are tired of this and the independents represent the growing frustration of the people.”
Many diehard supporters of both of the major parties would rather not have an independent running in their district.
“The irony of it all is that some are indicating that my presence will secure the seat for the PLP while just across the street some feel that my presence will secure the seat for the OBA,” he said.
Charlie Swan, independent candidate for Southampton West Central, said that he is hoping that enough voters choose “real change” by voting for an independent candidate.
“Changing the management of our country is one thing. It’s what we've always done, in every election to date. What really has to change is the mindset with which we approach our issues and challenges. The mindset of the elected managers,” he said in an e-mailed statement last night.
“History indicates that the party mindset has, ultimately, only benefited the parties and some of their members. My hope is that, at the end of the day, this mindset change occurs.”
He continued: “I trust and hope that the electorate vote, with prayer, firmness and belief, and in numbers I also trust and hope the electorate consider that voting for their Independent candidate represents REAL CHANGE.”