Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Weather clears in Bermuda as voters head to the polls

Published:Tuesday | July 18, 2017 | 12:40 PM

HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC):
Early-morning showers gave way to sunny skies as voters headed to the polls on Tuesday in a general election expected to produce another nail-biting finish between the ruling One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), which is seeking a second five-year term, and the opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP), which previously led the country for 14 years.

The OBA prevailed by two seats – 19 to 17 – at the last election in December 2012 with outright victory only confirmed on the stroke of midnight. But it became a minority government after two of its former cabinet ministers resigned to become independents.

Both parties, each fielding a full slate of 36 candidates, are confident of success after 40 days of campaigning.

The OBA is led by Premier Michael Dunkley, 59, while Opposition Leader David Burt is 38. He has led the PLP since last November when Marc Bean resigned following a stroke earlier in the year.

Five independents – including Paula Cox, a former PLP premier who quit the party after being rejected by party bosses despite being backed by her Devonshire North West branch are also in the mix.

Only two of the PLP’s 36 candidates are white while the OBA’s line-up includes 13. Bermuda’s 65,000 population is 55 per cent black and 35 per white (plus 10 per cent others).

The PLP is fielding eight women candidates, the OBA 12.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (local time) as a weather system which dumped an inch and a quarter of rain on the island on Monday began moving away, and will close at 8 p.m.

There are 46,669 registered voters  – an increase of nearly 3,000 from April 2016.

The OBA inherited a national debt of US$1.4 billion after taking office. It has since risen to $2.4 billion with the government having to fork out $500,000 a day to service the crippling debt.

In his party’s final news conference before election day, Dunkley noted the OBA’s record on tourism and improving the economy.

“We have made progress in restoring jobs, opportunity and hope, but we still have a ways to go,” he said.

“Our mission is to extend the recovery and renewal into every household. Now Burt and his colleagues have been trying to convince you that the choice in this election is between them and us, but the real choice is actually much simpler and much more important. Will Bermuda move forward or back?”

The PLP reiterated its pledge that education remains its top priority.

According to Burt, students had been forgotten under the OBA, while frequent changes in Education Ministers had created inconsistencies and a lack of accountability.

“It is a baffling exercise to imagine what the One Bermuda Alliance had been thinking when they had been wilfully ignoring the needs of our children and our teachers,” he said.

A new Royal Gazette poll published on Monday showed that both parties failed to canvass half of registered voters in the past four months.

Asked how often their OBA candidate had visited them since March, 58 per cent of people said never, 20 per cent said once and the remaining 22 per cent said twice or more.

Asked how often their PLP candidate had visited in that time frame, 63 per cent said never, 25 per cent said once and 12 per cent said twice or more.

Dunkley called the election on June 8 to pre-empt a showdown in the House of Assembly where  Burt planned to challenge him with a motion of no confidence.

Tragedy overshadowed the start of electioneering, with the death of independent MP Shawn Crockwell, a former OBA Tourism Minister, uniting both parties in a decision to suspend campaigning for 48 hours.

Crockwell’s departure from the OBA, followed by that of his colleague Mark Pettingill, a former Attorney-General, shook the ruling party, and will bring some fresh faces to the House regardless of which side wins.

In Warwick North East, where Pettingill has declined to run, Jeff Baron, a senator, is running for the OBA, challenged by the Opposition’s Kathy Simmons, while voters in Crockwell’s former seat of Southampton West Central will choose between the OBA’s Ben Smith and the PLP’s Crystal Caesar.