For me, the most exciting aspect of last night’s stunning election victory by the One Bermuda Alliance was not the closeness of the vote but the fact that the Bermudian electorate – and specifically black Bermudians – had the courage to vote for change.
It was a watershed moment in Bermuda’s democratic development, as significant as the Progressive Labour Party’s historic sweep to power in 1998 after 30 years of United Bermuda Party rule. In the same way that 1998 was overdue and had to happen, the same goes for 2012.
I have always held the opinion that Bermuda would only become politically mature when black Bermudians, as the majority of voters, had the courage to not only elect a predominantly black PLP Government but also to vote them out. The realisation that they truly do have the power to hold Governments of any persuasion accountable is a significant shift. This was an election that Bermudians of all races took very seriously and in which they voted on the issues, and less on emotion and historical allegiance. In future, the OBA and the PLP will underestimate Bermuda’s voters at their peril.
The OBA victory was as decisive as it was unexpected. Most pundits – myself included – felt it would be a close election but that as a new party, the OBA could not expect to win power in its first campaign. I had predicted a 19-17 PLP victory but from the moment Glenn Smith not only beat Premier Paula Cox in Devonshire North West but crushed her by almost 100 votes, it was clear change was in the air. In fact, by the time it was all over, the OBA were just 22 votes and a few spoiled ballots short of a 22-14 win, such were the narrow margins of PLP victory in Devonshire North Central, Pembroke Central and Sandys North.
It was a resounding rejection of the PLP’s policies, its arrogant style of Government and its tired race-based and negative rhetoric that has polarised and poisoned Bermudian politics in recent years. Race is absolutely still an issue in Bermuda but maybe politicians will now address racial issues honestly instead of playing the race card to cover up their own shortcomings and mistakes.
The fact is that the PLP, like the UBP before it, the party lost touch with the people and as Paula Cox stated last night: “I think the people have spoken and when the people speak you have to listen. People are hurting and we have to listen to that.”
That naturally goes for the OBA too. Craig Cannonier’s party have a huge job to live up to their promise to turn the country’s economy around in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s and prove that they really do represent a new start for Bermuda as a party that will work for all Bermudians, regardless of race. The OBA will certainly be more business-friendly than the PLP, especially towards the critical international business sector, but can their policies attract more business to the island or merely staunch the flow of companies and jobs leaving the country?
It will not be easy and it’s not something that can happen overnight. Bermuda’s voters have given the OBA a chance. Now they need to give them time to tackle the monumental tasks at hand.
If they fail, maybe the last step of Bermuda’s political development will be completed when white voters show the confidence and the courage of their black compatriots to vote for change themselves.