Joy: Paula Cox is sworn in as Premier by Governor Sir Richard Gozney. *File photo
Joy: Paula Cox is sworn in as Premier by Governor Sir Richard Gozney. *File photo
The remarkable thing about the election of Paula Cox as Bermuda’s Premier is that, by every indication, the people of Bermuda got the person they want.

What are the odds of this happening? Pretty remote, because the people of Bermuda had almost no say in the election of their own leader.

It is a peculiar form of democracy — indeed, it is not democracy at all — but that is the way our system works.

It made more sense in the old days when the Premier — or Prime Minister, in other versions of the Westminster system — was really little more than the “first among equals” they describe in the constitutional textbooks.


But that has evolved in Bermuda and elsewhere into a far more presidential style.

You are not so much electing a party to run things as a team, so much as electing a leader who will personally pick a team of underlings.

The choices a Premier has are, more often than not, woefully limited.

Even Ms Cox, who promised a major shake-up of the Cabinet, ended up with only one person who had not already served as a minister under her predecessors. The presidential style is reflected in the colour portraits that appear all over the place of our Premiers.

I happened to arrive at the airport a couple of days after Ms Cox’s “administration” began.

Dr. Ewart Brown’s portrait was missing and Ms Cox’s had yet to be hoisted.

It was a pleasure to wait in the immigration line without a leader staring down upon me.

This is nothing personal against my leaders. It is just liberating, as an ordinary citizen, to be left to stand in line by myself. It was, I assume, just a fleeting interregnum. Ms Cox has no doubt assumed her position at the front of the queue, or will do so soon. But the point is that neither I nor anybody else in the “Bermudians only” line at the airport had any say in whose portrait would hang above us.

We had a little indirect influence, perhaps. Presumably, the PLP conference delegates gave some consideration to who, in a general election, might lead their party to victory. But it was very indirect.

PLP leadership candidate Terry Lister, who has since become Transport Minister, held public town hall meetings and made statements on his plans and proposals during his campaign. Ms Cox did quite the opposite. She and her aides deliberately avoided engaging with the public during her leadership campaign.

They focused entirely on working behind the scenes, orchestrating the selection of favourable PLP conference delegates and ensuring that they voted for her.

Engaging the public was seen as a distraction or, worse yet, as a liability in her campaign.

I cannot blame Premier Cox for the path she took. She used the system our history created and produced the result she, and most of the rest of Bermuda, wanted.


But what a lunatic system it is, that does not let voters choose their own leader and actually penalizes a would-be leader who tries to appeal to citizens.

One of the great dysfunctions in modern politics — in Bermuda and elsewhere — is the enormous dissatisfaction and frustration that citizens feel. They feel their governments are out of touch and do not listen to them.

It is not that voters know specifically what they want their government to do — they still want leaders to make decisions and do the heavy thinking for them.

But they want to feel involved in the process and feel that their views — when and if they have them — are heard. The system needs to be changed. The excuses people use for inaction — for example, that the U.K. will not entertain constitutional changes short of independence — are false and lazy.

Bermuda voters, and the U.K. authorities for that matter, will hardly balk at changes that enhance democracy and make governments more responsive.

And, as always, the people in charge are people who have gotten ahead under the current system, so are less inclined than most to change it.

Over the last dozen years, our leaders have devoted a huge amount of time and energy to “enhancing” democracy.

They have switched to single-seat constituencies and creating 36 constituencies of equal size, instead of the very rough equality of parish-based districts.

But these are minor tweaks compared with the undemocratic method by which Bermuda has always chosen its leaders.

Until the system changes — and eventually, inevitably, it must  — our leaders would be smart to reach out of their own volition.

They should do, in short, exactly what Paula Cox did not do during the leadership contest but what her rival Mr. Lister did do.

Even when people do not have direct power they deserve, they will trust and respect their leaders more if they are feel involved.

They have, at least, the right to be listened to.