Premier Ewart Brown is urging PLP voters to make it three straight victories when they go to the polls on December 18. He made the announcement today (Friday) on the PLP website.
Premier Ewart Brown is urging PLP voters to make it three straight victories when they go to the polls on December 18. He made the announcement today (Friday) on the PLP website.
Premier Ewart Brown ended months of speculation today by announcing that the general election will be held on Tuesday, December 18, 2007.

The election will be the first chance voters have had to either endorse or reject Dr. Brown as the country's leader, a position he won after challenging Alex Scott in an internal party battle a year ago.

The Progressive Labour Party goes into the election with 22 seats; the United Bermuda Party has 14. Most of the seats are considered strongholds, but at least seven are too close to call.

The UBP has not been in power for nine years. For it to regain control it will have to win all seven marginal seats, hold the seats it won in 2003 and win at least one of the PLP's safe seats. Put another way, the PLP would have to suffer dramatic losses in order for the UBP to win.

An opinion poll in the summer by Research.bm put the UBP ahead of the PLP by six points (40 per cent to 34 per cent). But 26 per cent of respondents were undecided.

Both parties are talking confident and cherry-picking their issues. The PLP says under Dr. Brown it has increased tourism and attracted new airlines and hotel developments. It says it's cognisant of the problems in the education system and is committed to reform.

Housing and crime are also perennial favourites, but there's another hot topic, especially for the UBP - the need for 'good governance.'

The UBP's leader, Michael Dunkley, was the politician credited with unearthing the original corruption scandal at the Bermuda Housing Corporation (BHC) five years ago.

In excerpts from the original police investigation published in June this year, it was claimed that the authorities had thought about interviewing Dr. Brown and other members of the PLP but the Director of Public Prosecutions said there wasn't enough evidence.

Since then, the UBP has called for a Royal Commission to investigate the police investigation and questioned whether Dr. Brown can be trusted.

Dr. Brown started legal action after the stories appeared and continues to profess his innocence. On Monday this week, the Privy Council in London, Bermuda's highest court of appeal, heard an attempt by the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General to prevent further publication of details from a confidential police dossier on the BHC. The law lords rejected the moved and ruled in favour of the media.

In the coming weeks, voters can expect the UBP to talk about all the things the PLP hasn't done: About how it hasn't dealt with the housing crisis and dragged its feet on education. Dr. Brown's leadership style is also likely to come under close scrutiny.

But the UBP isn't without its challenges. Earlier this year, two of its black members quit the party, saying the white elite is still in control. Former leader Wayne Furbert called the claims "categorically untrue and downright malicious."

The UBP challenged the members - Gywneth Rawlins, the former chairman, and Jamahl Simmons, an MP - to name names. When they didn't, the leaders seemed happy to interpret this as meaning that it didn't exist and the subject appeared to have been forgotten.

Subsequently, however, veteran UBP MP Maxwell Burgess again talked about racism within the party, in the House of Assembly. He was instrumental in calling for the resignation of Wayne Furbert and is himself stepping down at the election.

Another challenge will be getting people out to vote: Although nearly 75 per cent of voters went to the polls in 2003, nearly 10,000 didn't vote. Voter apathy usually hurts the PLP and there are no signs this election will be different.

The PLP says that it is going to be taking a serious stab at all 36 seats. "We are going to contest seats that are considered un-winnable for the PLP," the party's chairman David Burt said earlier this year.

He also attempted to deflect the focus away from the two leaders saying: "People can throw the Dunkley/Brown comparisons around all they want, but top to bottom, the PLP is the better and superior team because our party is more ready to serve and will serve the people of Bermuda better. It's not about one man, it's about the party, and we are confident."

Shawn Crockwell, the UBP's chairman, says his party is equally confident.

"We fully believe that we will keep the 14 seats we won last time," he said earlier this year.

Three candidates who won marginal seats [Suzann Holshouser, Wayne Furbert and David Dodwell] have "entrenched themselves in those constituencies," he continued, adding that the four marginal seats held by the PLP are definitely up for grabs.

"Jennifer Smith only won by eight votes; Renee Webb by eight votes and Dean Foggo by 22 votes. Obviously we didn't win those seats, but we are talking about a very small [shift in] numbers and the election would have gone a very different way," he said.

Mr. Crockwell added: "We know what the task is ahead and we know it's an uphill battle, but from St. George's to Somerset Bermudians are very disappointed with what has transpired under the PLP and they feel their plight is getting worse. People are really unhappy.

"We are offering an alternative - a responsive and effective government that cares about the people."

More updates later on today's announcement, including comments from the two party leaders.