Jonathan Starling *File photo
Jonathan Starling *File photo

It was with great surprise that I learned the OBA had decided to abolish term limits, effective immediately.

Like many voters in the recent election, I had apparently naively accepted the OBA’s word during the election that if they were elected they would suspend the term limits policy for two years and engage in a thorough review of the policy. They made this election promise as a direct reply to the PLP accusing them of wanting to abolish term limits.

I want to be very clear here that I do not have a strong position for or against the term limits.  My concern is not with the abolishing of the term limits policy itself, but with the way the OBA went about abolishing them.

The OBA have been in power for about two months now. Not two years. I doubt I’m the only voter who has noted the difference between suspending the policy for two years before abolishing them and suspending them for two months and then abolishing them.

In doing this, the OBA have broken one of their key election promises.  If the OBA is willing to break this promise, the voters have every reason to wonder, ‘what election promise will they break next?’ Will it be, for example, no layoffs in the civil service? 

One wonders to what degree a voter could sue the OBA for false advertising, and whether or not the OBA would have been elected had they been honest about their intentions — of abolishing term limits immediately.

There are also a lot of myths concerning the issue of term limits, both in favour of keeping them and in favour of abolishing them. Had the OBA kept their promise of a two-year suspension, they would have been able to dispel a lot of these myths, ensure community buy-in for whatever decision the review and consultation process concluded with, and they would have increased their political capital.

Breaking promises

Breaking election promises does make the OBA decisive, as some OBAers have stated. But it makes them decisive in breaking election promises and alienating the electorate.  There are consequences when election promises are broken. It creates a lack of trust, there is a question of legitimacy and there are popular reactions to being misled. 

After years of many people feeling the PLP, rightly or wrongly, misled the voters and otherwise lost the trust of the people (hence the election result), the last thing the OBA should do is break a key promise and break the trust of the people.

Essentially, either the OBA made a promise which they were unable to keep, or they deliberately misled the electorate in order to win the election.  Shades of ‘we had to deceive you’ all over again. 

Neither option is good, and both options leave the electorate feeling used and deceived in one way or another. 

Core supporters of the OBA may be willing to ignore this, or even justify it.

To everyone else however, the actions of the OBA, on this issue, is a clear breach of trust and a broken promise. 

There will be consequences to this, some now and some later (such as at the next election).  The OBA should recall that they only ‘barely’ won the election, and that, arguably, they won because a significant number of voters did not come out to vote.  I doubt this would be repeated if the election was rerun now.

The OBA need to release the policy review they used to abolish the policy and engage in consultation with the public. They can still regain the people’s trust; it’s not too late.

• Jonathan Starling was an Independent candidate in Constituency 20, Pembroke South West, in the December 17 General  Election.