Bermuda votes: Yet another election in the Caribbean

Bert Wilkinson | 10/1/2020, midnight
The people of the tiny British colony of Bermuda are scheduled to vote in general elections Thursday, Oct. 1, with ...
Flag of Bermuda Image by jorono from Pixabay

The people of the tiny British colony of Bermuda are scheduled to vote in general elections Thursday, Oct. 1, with polls showing that the Afro-dominated Progressive Labor Party (PLP) of Premier David Burt is likely to be reelected to office.

Islanders are voting in the latest of a string of elections being held in the Caribbean Community and its associate members this year, with governments being either already reelected or booted out in Guyana, Suriname, St. Kitts, Trinidad, Jamaica, Dutch St. Maarten, Anguilla and the Dominican Republic. Others scheduled for 2020, perhaps the year with the most general elections in a 12-month cycle in living memory, will be held in St. Vincent and Belize by December.

The PLP will be defending the 24 of the 36 seats it had won in the 2017 general elections. Premier Burt said cabinet was anxious to get the elections out of the way to allow authorities to focus on rebuilding an economy that has been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, restricted air travel and reduced tourist arrivals.

“The truth is, tough times lie ahead and the government needs the backing of the people to make the hard decisions today that will benefit all Bermudians in the long run. We ably led us through to the new normal and now we seek your support to rebuild the economy in a way that works for all Bermudians, and not just the rich and powerful, who have always had it all,” Burt said as he named Oct. 1 as Election Day recently.

Formed in 1963, the Black supported PLP first took power in 1998 and ran the island of about 65,000 until 2012 when it lost to the then United Bermuda Party (PLP). That win had represented the first time a government had ever changed hands in Bermuda, meaning that whites had lost executive control for the first time in more than 300 years. The PLP regained office in 2017 even as the UBP split into several factions and was beset by infighting from which it is yet to recover.

Burt and other top party officials, apparently fearing the pandemic could trigger a low voter turnout as was the case with Jamaica’s elections on Sept. 3, wants his mostly Afro supporters to turn out in numbers to vote and help the party improve life for Blacks.

“Our plan is not about rebuilding Bermuda the way it was, but bringing about real change and fundamentally transforming our economy in a way that lifts all and makes our Bermudian people prosperous.”

Racial tensions between Blacks and colony whites, including those who live on the island from Britain and other places, lie just beneath the surface with Blacks arguing that it is their turn to run island affairs after suffering and enduring institutional racism for centuries.

PLP candidate Anthony Richardson urged a large turnout, contending that “you must vote. Your vote is only powerful if you use it. If we don’t vote and say, they got this or we could well end up with Premier Craig Cannonier.” Cannonier is a white business owner, not popular among the Afro community.

As elections day nears, there has been passing reference to the latest round of efforts to whip up support for Bermuda’s independence from Britain. Premier Burt says this cannot be done without taking the issue to a referendum. The last effort to break away from London in 1995 under the white-led UBP party ended with 74% of islanders voting no. Officials hope time has worked in favor of independence.

As the hours draw nigh, Bermuda could end with a Black premier and a Black governor for the first time in history as British woman civil servant Rena Lalgie has already been named to succeed John Rankin in December.