Burt can ‘capitalise on goodwill’ at polls
Commentators claimed that it was a smart political move by the Premier to call a General Election about two years earlier than required.
They highlighted the chance for David Burt's government to capitalise on the Covid-19 pandemic bounce caused by public approval of the handling of the crisis and the opportunity to get a strong mandate as reasons to send voters to the polls on October 1. The Premier can call a General Election at any time during the five-year term of a Parliament.
Political commentator Cordell Riley said that a premier's ability to call an election at any time during a five-year term gives them a strong advantage.
He added: “The strategic politician will use that power to their advantage.
“Bermuda's handling of the coronavirus has received praise from across the political aisle and, indeed, from overseas.
“With many nations likely to go through a period of tough times in the near future, from a purely political perspective, it makes imminent sense to go to the polls at this time and capitalise on that goodwill.”
Sir John Swan, a former United Bermuda Party premier and the country's elder statesman called a General Election about 2½ years after his party won in 1983.
Mr Riley added: “Sir John did it in 1985 to take advantage of the split in the Progressive Labour Party and almost decimated them.
“In politics, in particular, timing is everything.”
He added that there was “very little risk” for the PLP in holding a General Election in October.
Mr Riley said: “Apart from the handling of Covid-19 itself, they have provided unemployment benefits to both Bermudians and non-Bermudians, widely seen as a humanitarian gesture.
“They have also extended credit to small businesses, so they do have some currency, if you will, with the voters.”
He added that the PLP, which recorded a landslide victory in July 2017, could lose some of the marginal seats it took three years ago, but may pick up seats from One Bermuda Alliance MPs who opted to retire.
Mr Riley predicted: “The likelihood is that they will still be governing post-October 1.”
He said that the Opposition faced an “element of surprise” if the party had not considered that a General Election might be called this year.
He added that “bashing the Government on the economy and the debt may not resonate” as well with voters as it did in 2012 — when the OBA won — because few people would argue that it was wrong to put the safety of Bermudians above finances.
Mr Riley said: “In addition, early comments coming out of the OBA camp seem to indicate that they will make independence an issue.
“However, unless the PLP actually put it in their platform, this is dead in the water.
“Perhaps the major challenge they face would be, as an Opposition, finding 36 quality candidates to fight the election.
“True, while this is a challenge of both parties, it is a daunting task for an Opposition with just 11 seats in a 36-seat Parliament.”
John Barritt, an MP for 18 years, said: “The advantage to calling an early election has always been there for the taking by a sitting premier and government.
“Former premier Sir John Swan was a master of this and he proved the effectiveness of not hesitating to calling early elections back in the 1980s when he enjoyed massive victories at the polls.
“On the other hand, and more recently, former PLP premier Paula Cox showed the disadvantage to not calling an early election by waiting until close to term, when her party lost to the One Bermuda Alliance.
“It was not too dissimilar to what Dame Pamela Gordon and the UBP experienced in 1998 when the PLP won the government for the first time.
“I am sure these lessons were not lost on the Premier and his advisers in coming to a decision.”
Mr Barritt, a former UBP and OBA MP, added: “It is also not surprising that Mr Burt would seek a new mandate at this time. Any shrewd political leader would. He and his government have been impressive in leading the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Premier has also shown his personal mettle in not only leading the country through this difficult time, but his parliamentary caucus and party as well.”
He said: “For the voters, and this is probably most important, this also presents them with a welcome opportunity to weigh in on who they think will be best able to lead Bermuda from here.
“The challenge is largely economic, specifically one of jobs, and what it will take to build and fashion a new Bermuda.
“The Opposition has been complaining that there is no plan for recovery. Now they get to share their plan and voters get the opportunity to evaluate that plan in comparison to what the Progressive Labour Party government has done and will be promising to do in their party election manifesto.
“That said, it will also be more than just a question of who has the best plan but of which party voters believe will have their backs when their government has to face up to hard choices and make critical decisions.
“After all, the economy is, and will be for some time to come, the No 1 issue.”
But Phil Perinchief, a political adviser, added: “The call for a General Election is weeks overdue.
“If I was the Premier, we would have been halfway through canvassing by now.
“For any astute premier and politician, it makes good sense after scoring reasonable success at handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As a policy and political adviser, I would advocate making such a move at this time.”
Sir John, who served as Premier from 1982 to 1995, supported Mr Burt's call. “The PLP have to make some substantive policy changes,” he said. “These can only come about if the Government feels it has a strong mandate from the people.”
Charles Jeffers, a longstanding political observer and the former leader of the National Liberal Party, said the General Election may take would-be candidates by surprise.
He said on Friday: “If I'd been thinking of running, I'd probably say I couldn't. Some of the potential best candidates might say they can't, they don't have enough time. That's why we need to have set times.
“Under our system, the leader is challenged within his party and wants to make sure he crystallises his position. So he catches everybody off guard.
“It's the Premier's decision — one person can decide.”