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Seniors could decide by-election

Charles Jeffers

Older voters stand to present a decisive force in the upcoming contest for Devonshire North Central, according to the advocacy group Age Concern.

Constituency 13 candidates from the governing One Bermuda Alliance and the Opposition have been invited by the group to field questions from area residents aged 50 and above at a meeting next week.

“Bermudians are getting older, and it’s the seniors who are going to hold quite a sway,” said Charles Jeffers, director of Age Concern.

“If people vote as they have voted all their lives, we will have similar results. But if they vote on issues, Bermuda would be better off. I believe we could become a potent voice if we could get people to break with tradition.”

Pensions have not kept up with the rising cost of living, medical insurance and prescription drugs, he said.

Diallo Rabain, the Progressive Labour Party hopeful, and Andrew Simons, who is canvassing for the OBA, could face tough questions at next Wednesday’s forum in Christ Church hall.

Mr Jeffers said the OBA’s performance at the polls on February 4 would serve as a “barometer” for the its brief record as a Government.

Meanwhile, anything short of victory for the PLP in a district it has long held would come as a major blow to the Opposition, according to former PLP senator Jonathan Smith. Mr Jeffers cautioned that the by-election, called after the resignation of PLP Member of Parliament Glenn Blakeney, would nonetheless be a difficult call.

“It’s not uncommon to find a lower turnout than in a General Election,” he said. “It’s difficult for people to get really worked up because they know it can’t change the Government.

“The governing party will do their best to get this as confirmation that they are doing a good job and the Opposition will want to keep it.

“Senator Rabain has the fact that a lot of people already know him. Mr Simons is a relative newcomer, although he lost by only a few votes in 2012.”

Mr Jeffers was referring to the slim, four-vote margin by which the PLP’s Walton Brown won Pembroke Central against Mr Simons in the General Election.

“That was very close, and that was in a fairly strong PLP district,” Mr Jeffers pointed out. “I think the PLP have the most to lose in this one because they lost the government in 2012.”

Anthony Francis, the OBA’s last challenger for Devonshire North Central, is understood to have been passed over in part because he would have to resign his government job if elected. However, Mr Francis continued canvassing after his election loss, while Mr Blakeney’s ability to knock on doors was hampered by his business interests and heavily political workload.

Asked if the OBA might pay politically for its inability thus far to show Bermudians the 2,000 jobs promised before the election, Mr Jeffers said: “I don’t think so. To make a statement about what you’re going to do — it’s all talk in politics. They should not have had a platform per se; they had not been in Government and had no clue what they would find. They should have had a wish list.”

Mr Smith, who ran for the PLP in Warwick West in the General Election, said that midterm by-elections typically favoured the party that was in Opposition.

“Both parties will be keen to perform well,” Mr Smith added. “Anything less than a win for the PLP, in a seat that has voted PLP in three consecutive elections, will be seen as a major setback.

“For the Government, if they lose, the political spin is ‘well, it wasn’t an OBA seat to start with’. If they win, regardless of the vote margin, they can, and will, tout this as a significant breakthrough and harbinger of possibly stronger electoral results to come.”

Mr Smith said voter turnout could be expected to be 10 per cent or more less than in 2012.

“The result, as always, will depend on just how well the political parties are mobilised on the ground and what motivates the voters come election day. The PLP has one distinct advantage: they are fielding a well-known and competent candidate in Diallo Rabain. He is seen as a sensible, moderate, business-focused PLP candidate with a deep appreciation of the community and a genuine willingness to help others. Andrew Simons from the OBA, is also competent, but has far less stature on the national or local stage, and for many, remains largely unknown in terms of political competence. In the end, it is likely that voters will be motivated by just how much their circumstances have improved, or not, since the last election.”

With many Devonshire North Central voters “deeply affected” by unemployment, reduced working hours, rising living and healthcare costs, plus cutbacks to a range of government services, February 4 “may very well drive them to the polls to voice their concerns with the ballot”.