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Commissiong backs Sir John’s call for political ‘reset’

All change: the former PLP MP Rolfe Commissiong (File photograph)

A former Progressive Labour Party MP has backed calls for the island to be governed by independent politicians who are not aligned to a political party.

Rolfe Commissiong spoke out in response to a plea by former premier Sir John Swan for an end to party politics. Earlier this week, Sir John announced that he was considering standing in next month’s Smith’s North by-election as an independent candidate, and urged others to do the same.

Last night, Mr Commissiong said that, in an increasingly changing world, Bermuda’s party political system had reached “the end of its shelf life“.

He also criticised the present occupants of the House of Assembly, claiming that they lacked leadership.

Mr Commissiong said: “With the once-in-a-generation shifts taking place globally which are and will continue to impact us, the comfortable certainties over the last 30 years are gone.

“Yet too many of our current politicians are ill-prepared to rise to this challenge. Few are real leaders. They are small in so many ways compared to the giants of that era.

“We must embrace the fact that the constitutional and political model that has so defined Bermuda since the late Sixties has reached the end of its shelf life. It is time for real leaders to emerge who understand the existential moment at hand.”

Mr Commissiong, who served as the PLP MP for Pembroke South East between 2012 and 2020, said that he had been “one of the more consistent and fiercest critics” of Sir John in the past 25 years, particularly with regard to racial disparities in Bermuda.

He nevertheless encouraged the island’s longest-serving premier — Sir John was premier between 1982 and 1995 — to enter the by-election to help bring about “a great constitutional and political reset“.

He said: “Has the man in the person of Sir John Swan met the historical moment in his pending decision to challenge the by-election as an independent — especially at this juncture in terms of the global and domestic challenges confronting Bermuda?

“I would answer with a resounding ‘yes’. I encourage him to seal the deal by formally announcing his candidacy.

“There is no doubt there is a reservoir of goodwill and support for Sir John in both communities.

“Let’s not forget his roots, embedded as they were in that Black community comprised of Marsh Folly, St Monica’s Mission Road and Government Gate.

“That community produced strong Black leaders in the person of my mother, who became a civil rights icon along with those in the Progressive Group, the legendary Ottie Simmons, a fearless and tireless lion on behalf of labour, and, of course, Sir John.

“All three of them were children who grew up together in that neighbourhood. That neighbourhood was the crucible by which Black leaders were forged around that pond. They changed Bermuda for ever.

“Sir John can help us to navigate these challenges, but I have little confidence that the current Black political and financial elites are up for the challenge.

“It’s time for a great constitutional and political reset of Bermuda and we could do far worse than to have Sir John, for the love of his country, to be an integral and indispensable part of this once-in-a-generation moment.”

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