According to the poll published in the daily newspaper – the Royal Gazette- the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) holds a double-digit lead over the ruling Progressive Labour Party (PLP) .
The faltering economy will certainly be on the minds of most people when they cast their ballots, according to the poll, which suggests a high turnout by the more than 40,000 registered voters among the island’s 65,000 residents could be on the cards.
The PLP, which swept the now defunct United Bermuda Party (UBP) from power in 1998, is seeking a fourth term in office but does so against a backdrop of continuing gang violence, rising unemployment — now up to 10 per cent, according to new government statistics — a shrinking expatriate population and a national debt which has ballooned to US$1.4 billion as the island struggles to get out of a four-year recession.
A leading local investment advisory firm, Anchor Investment Management, predicts the island will remain in recession through 2013.
While more than two-thirds of voters believe the economy is the most important issue facing Bermuda, more than half of them think it is heading in the wrong direction.
According to the poll, the OBA is seen as the party best able to bring about an economic recovery, despite the fact it is contesting its first general election.
Former Bermuda Sun editor Tom Vesey, now a columnist for the bi-weekly newspaper, said: “It seems clear to me that anti-PLP sentiment is stronger than it was at the last election.”
The Gazette poll put the OBA 13 points ahead of the PLP. The poll showed Premier and Finance Minister Paula Cox with only a 34 per cent favourability rating, third behind rival Craig Cannonier, the leader of the OBA, who got 48 per cent, and Michael Dunkley, his deputy, who had a 51 per cent favourability rating among voters.
Cannonier, a businessman who only arrived on the political scene since the last election five years ago, previously led the short-lived Bermuda Democratic Alliance, which merged with most members of the UBP who quit the party to help form the OBA in May last year. Cannonier became Opposition Leader when he won a seat in the House of Assembly 12 months ago.
“It’s time for all of us to believe in a better Bermuda,” he said.
Cox fared better in the poll than her deputy, Derrick Burgess, who had a 23 per cent rating, and former UBP leader Kim Swan, who scored 26 percent.
Swan is one 15 independent candidates — a record since the introduction of party politics here 44 years ago — who have thrown their hat in the ring against a full slate of candidates from the main parties. Going into the election, the PLP has 24 seats in the House, two more than it held 2007. Nine of the OBA’s candidates won seats for the UBP last time.
Some pundits believe it could be a hung parliament with one or two independents holding the balance of power.
David Petty, who is running as an independent in Pembroke South West, has also predicted a close race. “When there is a close election, the power of an independent probably goes to the other end of the scale. They may be the people who effectively decide which party will be in government.
“I don’t believe that either of the parties will win this election — I believe it will depend on the independents and whichever party defines itself as the most effective to govern the island will take power” he said.
Both main parties have also promised to create more jobs.
Cox, the fourth PLP Premier since the party’s 1998 victory, which ended 30 years of unbroken UBP rule, told a press conference: “We’ve gone through the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, but in times like these, we need leaders that have a heart for the people and who truly care about Bermudians like you.
“The PLP may not be perfect – no one is. We are all human. But, what we have done is stand strong for our people and delivers real results that even our opponents are now praising.”
Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said: “Simply promising that the government will grow ‘thousands of jobs’, as the Premier has said, is not a plan.
“The bitter reality in Bermuda today is that people are living the government plan – with more than 10,000 Bermudians either unemployed or under-employed and nearly 40 per cent of our young people (16-24) without a job.
“By contrast, the One Bermuda Alliance has released a comprehensive ‘jobs and economic turnaround plan’ to create 2,000 jobs and restore confidence and opportunity to our troubled economy.”
Environmentalist Stuart Hayward, who 23 years ago was the last MP to win a seat at a general election as an independent, said of the PLP: “They’ve had their chances through three elections to get it right and, too often, they’ve got it wrong. The time is right now for the PLP to have a break, to reflect, rethink and regroup. A little time on the backbenches could restore humility while we patch up the mess they’ve made of Bermuda.”
Meanwhile, only hours before the Bermudians head to the polls, the parties continued to exchange barbs with the PLP accusing the 19-month-old OBA of ducking debates and the opposition accusing government of spending more time attacking the OBA than fixing pressing economic problems.
Former Premiers Dr Ewart Brown, Alex Scott and Dame Jennifer Smith were among the guests at the PLP’s final rally on Saturday, which saw the party’s 11 central candidates take the stage to thumping music before a sea of green-wearing supporters.
“Send a message on Monday,” said Brown, who was Premier between 2006 and 2010.
Monday’s general election, will features 87 candidates vying for 36 seats in the House of Assembly in this British Overseas Territory.
(Re-printed from Caribbean360)