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Surprise at OBA’s rule change on who can challenge for leadership

The One Bermuda Alliance made history by being the first political party to have a non MP at its helm when Craig Cannonier was elected leader in September 2011.

But few knew that successive leadership elections would be held under new rules that restricted candidates for the leadership to MPs.

John Barritt, a founder of the OBA and its first leader, was not aware of that particular provision in the constitution when

The Royal Gazette first broached the subject for a story earlier this month.

Senator Michael Fahy, another founder who it is understood helped to draft the Constitution which came into effect upon Mr Cannonier’s ascension to the leadership, would only refer us to the party chairman Thad Hollis.

But Mr Hollis did not respond to e-mails and phone messages.

"I think the reason why [the change] is obvious. They don't want their leader, aka the Premier, being challenged by someone outside the elected group an ‘outsider’ as it were over whom they have no control, especially during his term of office, and running the risk of losing,” said Mr Barritt.

“There is also an argument to be made that the internal wrangling and turmoil that would inevitably follow a leadership challenge, would also seriously affect, if not undermine, the party's ability to govern during the period of challenge."

David Petty, a former member of the OBA, who ran for elective office as an independent candidate said he too was unaware of the rule change.

“I’m surprised about that,” Mr Petty said. “I’m surprised it’s restricted to MPs to be candidates. I would have thought in order to be leader you would have to be an MP. It doesn’t seem reasonable that someone who would otherwise be a viable candidate would not be part of the process.”

Mr Petty added: “There seems to be a general view of ‘don’t ask permission, ask for forgiveness.’”

Mr Cannonier was a Senator when he won a closely fought leadership contest against Bob Richards. Days later Mr Barritt, who had served four months as the new party’s interim leader, lived up to a pledge to resign his seat in the House of Assembly to give the new leader a chance to enter parliament should they be a non MP.

Mr Barritt’s resignation paved the way for Mr Cannonier to contest a by-election in the Opposition stronghold Devonshire South Central and win a seat in the House of Assembly, thus becoming eligible for appointment by the Governor as the Official Leader of the Opposition.

"The pity is that this also looks so typical of those who are in charge of political parties: pull up the ladder Jack, I have what I want, time now to look after ourselves and our positions,” Mr Barritt said.

“The real downside to this is that it appears to bring to a close the principles of openness and inclusiveness which were embodied in the election of party leader and on which the One Bermuda Alliance was founded, i.e. the opportunity that anybody can put themselves forward and become leader if she or he can win the support of a majority of members. But there again you have to ask as I am sure they did who among us will be prepared ever again to give up his or her seat should a non-elected member of the party win? "

Opposition MP Walton Brown said: “If it is the case that the constitution was changed without the knowledge of the wider membership then that would represent a party engaged in deception to its core.

“It would be consistent with my argument that people have voted for change without being entirely sure about what change they were going to get.”

Mr Brown added that the OBA, which had prided itself as a party which allowed all of its members to vie for the leadership, had eradicated a major difference between its constitution and that of the Progressive Labour Party.

While the OBA has posted its constitution on its website (www.oba.bm) one party insider said it has yet to be ratified by the wider membership.

Mr Cannonier’s first term as leader ends in September.

It should be noted that Bermuda has no laws governing the establishment of political parties.

OBA Leader and Premier Craig Cannonier and former OBA Leader John Barritt shown together in this file picture. Mr Barritt has expressed surprise at a rule change on who can challenge for leadership of the party in future.

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Published January 10, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 09, 2013 at 10:50 pm)

Surprise at OBA’s rule change on who can challenge for leadership

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