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Fear over future dominates ballot in Paget East

Traditional stronghold: Mission Road, Paget East (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Old-school voters in Paget East said they were worried about the island’s future as they head to the polls tomorrow.

In a traditional stronghold of the One Bermuda Alliance, The Progressive Labour Party is still dogged by its past economic record in government.

The Royal Gazette spoke to a cross section of voters on their choice between the OBA’s Scott Pearman and PLP challenger Curtis Richardson in a by-election caused by the retirement of Opposition MP Grant Gibbons,

Paget East is regarded as an OBA bastion and was previously a United Bermuda Party stronghold.

Dr Gibbons won the seat in 1994 as part of the United Bermuda Party and held it for the OBA. He shared the Paget East constituency with Sir John Swan, the former premier under the UBP, in the old dual-seat system.

Previous representatives include Sir Henry Tucker, the first leader of the UBP.

However, this time around, householders in the wealthy Grape Bay Drive area said an OBA win was not a sure bet.

A senior resident said: “It’s been that way for a long time, but nowadays everything is up for grabs. It stuns me that people will vote for someone because they have a nice smile.”

The man said both parties strategised along racial lines.

He added: “In the old days, the UBP would get all the white vote and 25 per cent of the black vote, but there are large black populations in Paget. People don’t realise that.

“The PLP would make a mistake if they held the mindset that it’s a lost cause.”

He and his partner admitted that they did not know much about either candidate, but both aimed to vote OBA.

He added: “I suspect that people in this area are more concerned with the big issues. The biggest is the economy. The first thing the PLP did in power was to increase the civil service.

“Health is another. The expectations of people are beyond what we can fund.”

The man said the island’s political landscape, with a much-reduced Opposition, left the island in “dire straits”.

He highlighted Barbados, where new Prime Minister Mia Mottley suspended debt payments after a clean sweep of the country’s 30 seats by the Barbados Labour Party and was hit with an immediate ratings cut.

The man predicted: “That’s where we are headed.”

Another couple in Rural Hill also said they would vote OBA and approved Mr Pearman’s pledge to visit despite being assured of their support.

The woman said David Burt, the Premier, was “a very nice, smart man”.

She also said the traditional merchant class of the UBP days were “people who inherited property and were raised to look after it”.

She added: “Now we have individuals who are probably nice, but never owned anything”.

The woman said the area was an OBA stronghold.

She said: “A lot of people think the OBA just haven’t been pushing for anything. They’re not being loud enough now and they let us down in the last election.”

Her husband admitted he was pessimistic about Bermuda’s future after the PLP landslide of last year.

The man said: “We know people planning to get rid of their homes and move. At our age, we don’t want to have to pack up and leave.”

They added that they were concerned at the devaluation of property and opposed to independence for Bermuda.

In the Mission Road area, a woman who identified as an OBA supporter said that it “doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll vote”.

Seniors were her top concern, with both parents unable to survive off pensions consumed by health insurance costs.

Asked for her view on the political landscape, she said the OBA could be finished as a party.

She said she was “not upper class” and “didn’t ever see us owning a home on our island”, but she said she was wary of the PLP, adding: “I find them to be racist.”

At the Loughlands estate, opened as affordable housing in 2010 by the PLP, a young woman resident said she and her partner would vote for Mr Richardson.

She added: “I don’t know much about him. I’m voting for the party.”

The woman said she was happy with the neighbourhood where she has lived since it opened, but is still worried about jobs.

She added: “A lot of people are still struggling — it’s crazy.”

Near the constituency’s western boundary, at Sylvan Dell Road, a young male swing voter said he had given “both party platforms a good look”.

He added he had not spoken to Mr Pearman, but canvassers from the PLP had called his home.

The man said: “I am in wait-and-see mode.”

He added the change of government in last year’s General Election was refreshing.

He said: “History has a habit of going in circles. It’s only a matter of time before the country decides to see what the other side has to offer.”