Is the PLP government any different than the UBP’s?


By Andrew Clarke
Published June 3rd 2005 in Bermuda Sun
When Bermudians elected the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) Government in 1998, they did so amidst one of the island’s most prosperous times. Despite lagging tourism figures, the country’s coffers were kept solidly in the black, thanks largely to the skyrocketing fortunes of international business.

So it was a real surprise to me the electorate could so soundly turn its back on the orchestrators of that prosperity — the United Bermuda Party (UBP).

In handing over the helm to the inexperienced ‘Government in Waiting’ (as the PLP were often called), the country based its collective decision on other performance deficits. Whether perceived or real, cronyism, corruption or oft cited racial insensitivity swung the day for the PLP. After all, historically elections in Bermuda had — to borrow a Bill Clintonism — been “about the economy, stupid”.

After nearly a decade of PLP rule are Bermudians getting anything different out of Parliament than they did under decades of UBP dominance?

Does it really matter who’s steering the dingy when the 36 elected MPs pontificate lyrically, racially and, in some cases, ignorantly until the wee hours of Saturday morning?

There’s usually little else but a foregone conclusion (the ruling party’s) on debate.

Ask yourself if you want your children watching what goes on up on the Hill - let alone enter politics themselves - while at home and school you try to model and teach positive deportment and civility? One hour of listening to so called Parliamentary debate is enough to make anyone a wall sitter the rest of their life.

As a Canadian columnist recently quipped, perhaps MP’s debates should carry a warning message like a cigarette pack: “This programming can be dangerous to your health.”

For the majority of Bermudians the histrionics, name calling, mud-splattering, shouting, racial posturing, one upping, blind partisanship, “we’re not like you...do you know who I am” statements and the like bring the Parliamentary institution, and those elected to it, into sorry disrepute.

Increasing numbers of Onions just want things to work - for everyone’s sake.

In an age of high speed internet, cultural melding, independent thought and a race to champion democracy around the globe, there are fewer and fewer fierce partisans (read, black versus white) in Bermuda.

Proportional representation

The time has come for a system of proportional representation (PR) to elect our Government; one where popular vote is reflected in the overall seat count in the House.

Here’s one such PR method (a single transferable vote, or STV) put to referendum last week in British Columbia. It garnered 57 per cent approval of the electorate – some three percent short of the number needed to trigger a change in the law.

Maybe a similar system could work in Bermuda:

Enlarge each constituency to contain more elected MPs. Each party may run several candidates per constituency; individuals run against opponents and fellow party members. Voters rank the list of names in order of preference. The Parliamentary Registrar’s office then calculates the number of votes (a quota) needed to elect each MP. Everyone’s first preference is counted. All candidates reaching the quota are elected. If one voter’s number 1 candidate gets more votes than is needed to win, his or her number 2 choice is counted as well using a weighted formula. If no one hits the quota, the person with the fewest votes is dropped and the voter’s next choice is counted.

The effect of a STV system like this is to focus General Elections back on the individual voter, rather than the MPs or party rhetoric. It would bring out more independent, intelligent candidates. And make the final seat count be in line with the popular vote.

For my money, that’s more democratic, racially sensitive, and mathematically sensible than simply chanting: “One man. One vote, of equal value.”

While mathematicians would quickly admit no voting procedure is perfect, some form of PR - like STV - is far better than the current system, which so often distorts the will of the majority.