Bermudians are voting in a snap general election on Thursday which is expected to give the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) a fresh five-year mandate — despite two opposition parties throwing down a challenge.
Premier David Burt called the snap election — against the backdrop of more than six months of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic — almost two years early to press home his advantage in parliament, but the 11th-hour founding of a new, third party has added spice to what many observers had seen as shaping up to be another lopsided race.
Five independents have also joined Thursday’s race, but it is 30 years since an independent won a House seat in this majority-black island of around 64,000 residents.
The polls, which opened at 8.00 am (local time) closes 12 hours later, and the result of the election is expected before midnight.
The PLP ended the One Bermuda Alliance’s (OBA) one term in office with a crushing 24-12 defeat in July 2017 and added an extra seat in a subsequent by-election.
The OBA has been seen as weak in opposition but the emergence of the Free Democratic Movement (FDM) — headed by former PLP leader Marc Bean, who has re-joined the fray after four years away — has given undecided voters an unexpected extra option.
A newspaper poll showed 50 per cent of voters favoured the PLP, 17 per cent the OBA and eight per cent the FDM, but one in four voters were unsure how they would cast their ballots.
The FDM, which is fielding 14 candidates, has said it is prepared to form a coalition government.
The OBA, apparently caught napping by Burt’s snap election call six weeks ago, is contesting only 31 of the 36 House of Assembly seats after three of its stalwarts, including former party leader Jeanne Atherden, decided to call it a day.
The shortfall has meant the PLP getting off to a flying start with victory guaranteed in three uncontested seats, two of them previously held by cabinet ministers.
When he called the election on August 21, Burt said he wanted to spare the British Overseas Territory a string of by-elections if several MPs from the OBA decided to retire.
Burt has been widely praised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed nine lives among 181 confirmed cases on the island, but critics have been less complimentary about the PLP’s handling of the economy and he has warned of tough economic times ahead.
Burt has been branded “selfish” by Bean –who led the PLP for four years after it narrowly lost the 2012 election before resigning four years later because of ill health — for calling the election during the pandemic.
Political sources said they were unsure what impact the pandemic would have on turnout.
Burt said he knew people were not happy with either the PLP or OBA and it was an “opportune time” to launch a new party.
OBA leader Craig Cannonier, a former premier, says his party has the proven track record to attract investment in the island whose already weak economy has been battered by COVID-19 with the national debt edging towards US$3 billion and likely to rise to $3.5 billion.
Around $50 million was handed out by the government to workers who lost their jobs after the pandemic led to the island’s borders being closed in March. Although the airport reopened to commercial flights on July 1 cruise ships are not expected to return until next spring.