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Sir John to stand as independent candidate in by-election

Former premier Sir John Swan confirms he will stand as an independent candidate in the Smith’s North by-election (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Sir John Swan, the former premier, has confirmed that he will stand in the by-election next month as an independent candidate.

Three weeks ago, Sir John — Bermuda’s longest-serving premier, appointed under the former United Bermuda Party — said he would stand if the voters of Smith’s North indicated that they were prepared to support his bid.

He said at a press conference yesterday: “I believe the Westminster system that we inherited is not working.

“In the Westminster system, the loyalty is to the party, and it should be to the public.

“I think the time has come now that Bermuda has to really seriously consider, does it want to continue with the system that’s not working?

“We’ve got to a stage now where party loyalty is the No 1 thing, and whatever the party decides or the leader of the party decides, people get behind and blindly follow the leader.”

Sir John, 88, added: “I had to stop and think. And I decided that we needed independent members who had been able to achieve something in their personal lives and make a contribution to the political system.

“So, therefore, I will be submitting my name as a candidate for Smith’s North.

“The reason for it is very simple — if I get elected, it’s an indication that people want change, that people are prepared to embrace change.”

Sir John, who said he would hold a constituency meeting on May 13 at the Ocean View Golf Course, added: “If I don’t get elected, it means that people are quite happy to keep the status quo.

“This is not about me. I’ve been premier, had my chance, done my thing, got all the accolades to be offered. This is not about me, this is about Bermuda and future generations.”

Asked if running as an independent could mean splitting the vote for the One Bermuda Alliance, which has six MPs, allowing the Progressive Labour Party to win and continuing the status quo he wanted to change, Sir John said: “Well, let’s put it this way, if that happened, it [the OBA] would go from six seats to five seats.

“Does that make a difference in parliament? Based on what we’ve seen happening up there, does it really make a difference?

“If I won, people feel, ‘OK, there's a chance for independent members coming forward’. You’ve got to take a chance. If not, you sit there, always afraid of the consequences.”

Statement from Jarion Richardson

“The One Bermuda Alliance believes in free, fair, and transparent elections, and any candidate is welcome to participate in the by-election in Constituency 10.

“We also believe the best way to accomplish a goal, especially a hard goal, is with a committed, caring team. We’ve built that team. Brick-by-brick, day-by-day, one door at a time. And we will bring that same change and hope to our system of government, as we spoke about during our town halls.

“The hardest types of problems are solved by teams willing to walk door-to-door, early mornings and late into the nights. We are focused on the modern problems facing the modern families in a modern Bermuda.”

He said the OBA candidate Robert King “is a key member of this committed energetic team.

“His professional background uniquely positions him to know the troubles which affect Bermuda’s most vulnerable. He knows the ins and outs of the government machinery. His canvassing for months alongside Michael Dunkley has transferred that knowledge and culture of constituency service.

“Robert is equipped to represent Smith’s North in the next Government of Bermuda.”

When Sir John first announced that he was considering standing, he was critical of Bermuda’s Westminster-style “winner takes all” political system, which he said had become “tribal”.

Asked why the system under which he was elected as premier was no longer functioning, Sir John said that the world had changed.

“Things are far more exposed,” he added. “The burden of government and the responsibility of government to the public has increased.

“The world keeps moving, and it doesn't move backwards or downwards, it moves upward. You can't leave the people behind as the world moves on because the gap between the haves and the have-nots gets wider. We have to close that gap.”

He said the Westminster system was purely about party loyalty and getting re-elected, even though the country could be headed in the wrong direction.

“I would stand for the people,” he added when asked what his agenda in the House of Assembly would be.

Sir John said he had been approached by other people wanting to stand as independent candidates, although he declined to say who they were, and had also been contacted by Marc Bean, the leader of the Free Democratic Movement, who had “wished him well”.

“He's decided not to put a candidate up against me because he feels it's time for a change in that area,” Sir John added.

He said Bermuda had a range of issues, such as the judicial system, which he believes needs reviewing, the docks, the transportation systems, school systems and healthcare.

Sir John said he believed that a system with more independents would embrace more people from a cross-section of the community “to come in and to participate in some of the solutions to these problems”.

“I am not going criticise this administration or the Premier. He only can work with the tools the country gives him to work with. The Premier and the members of government are the elected tools that are given a job to do by the public.

“So every five years, or within the five-year period, the public have a chance to change it or keep it the same. I’m saying at this moment, let’s start the preparation for a change.

“If the public decide they want to keep it the same, then we have to live with the consequences of it.”

Sir John will contest the by-election — which was called when the OBA’s Michael Dunkley announced his retirement — against the PLP’s Lindsay Simmons and the OBA’s Robert King.

Last night a spokesman for the PLP said it was “focused on working to elect our energetic, hard-working, community-focused candidate Lindsay Simmons”.

He added: “She is running her own race with steady, consistent work on the ground and at the doorstep, and we support her 100 per cent."

The vote will be held on May 22.

• UPDATE: this article has been amended to include comment from the One Bermuda Alliance and Progressive Labour Party

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