By Bert Wilkinson
Bermuda’s Afro-dominated Progressive Labor Party (PLP) knew that a stagnant economy was its political Achilles Heel, but leaders say they never expected that voters who had helped the party to topple 50 years of white rule would have abandoned it in general elections in Bermuda on Monday ending its three terms and almost 15 years in government.
Premier Paula Cox, who even lost her seat in a close contest where the newly-minted One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) won 19 of the 36 constituencies, said that four years of economic depression and unemployment at eight percent were factors that had placed the PLP on the proverbial back-foot, leading to its surprise loss in the general elections.
“It’s disappointing but the voters spoke. A good fight was waged by the opposition and I think that they deserved their win. I think the issue is the economy and the fact that people are feeling that.”
Very few people in the PLP had even contemplated a win for the OBA which only in the past year emerged from the ashes of the racially tainted and stained United Bermuda Party (UBP).
Aware that too many people had regarded the UBP as a party of white racists, intolerant of others and contemptuous of non-supporters like the GOP in the nearby U.S., leaders though it best to abandon ship, rebrand with the OBA, ensure its leadership and base were more diverse and try to take on the PLP, playing up the economic recession and high unemployment. It clearly worked even as Cox admitted.
Until the rebranding and the emergence of the OBA, opposition leaders and supporters had largely accepted that the PLP would win most elections in the foreseeable future because the UBP had been such a badly-damaged piece of work.
Now, the mid-Atlantic island that lies east of the Carolinas and two hours by air from New York, will be led by mixed-race Premier Craig Cannonier, a member of parliament for only 13 months.
He listed improvements to the economy as his main goal, contending that the OBA will look out for “those who cannot feed their families and seniors who cannot afford to stay in their own country. The OBA will work for you,” he said as jubilant supporters danced in the streets and celebrated at the nearest pubs.
Several key cabinet ministers lost their seats. Some PLP top brassers even blamed redistricting for their losses in important constituencies. Cox has even resigned as leader of a party of mainly Black faces. For now, the OBA is the one that appears to be more diverse as it attempts to lead the racially tense island of 65,000 people out of recession. Bermuda is an associate member of Caricom.