*Photo montage by Gary Foster Skelton
*Photo montage by Gary Foster Skelton

FRIDAY, DEC. 14: Bermuda will on Monday go to the polls in what is predicted to be the closest General Election in 20 years.

Some observers say the result is too close to call — with the new One Bermuda Alliance better placed to win power than the former UBP was in any election since 1998.

Others say the PLP will narrowly retain power while some are even suggesting a hung Parliament, with one or two independents holding the balance of power.

But it’s so close, few pundits are willing to go on record with their predictions.

Dale Butler, PLP MP in Warwick North East, said: “The only prediction I have is a Butler win.”

Mr Butler’s opponent, the OBA’s Mark Pettingill, who moved from Warwick West to take on the sitting MP, said: “We just can’t afford a Butler in the House — but whatever happens, I know that Dale Butler and I will still be friends.”

On a national level, the two parties were still exchanging barbs yesterday, with the PLP accusing the OBA of ducking debates and the Opposition accusing Government of spending more time attacking the OBA than fixing pressing economic problems.

David Petty, who is running as an independent in Pembroke South West, said Monday’s vote will be close: “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 added: “We’re hearing a lot of misinformation about the lack of power of an Independent candidate.”

Cornell Fubler, founding member of Restore Bermuda and an independent candidate in St George’s North, added: “Because it’s that tight, I don’t know who will win. What I’m sensing on the street is that it could go either way. If we have, in essence, a hung Parliament, it’s very likely that an Independent or two could make the difference.”

The pair were speaking after a total of 15 Independent candidates – one of the highest totals of recent times – announced themselves as candidates.

Several of them gathered at the House of Assembly yesterday to highlight that a vote for an Independent could help end polarized political sniping across the floor of the House of Assembly.

Stuart Hayward, chairman of environmental charity BEST and a former independent MP, said: “I really can’t make any predictions – one could make a prediction or two in one constituency or another, but to make a prediction about the entire election is beyond my skills.”

Former Bermuda Sun Editor Tom Vesey, a columnist for this newspaper, said: “It seems clear to me that anti-PLP sentiment is stronger than it was at the last election but the circumstances — especially with a new opposition and a few potential independent spoilers — leaves me 100 per cent perplexed.”

He added that he was also unsure of how much weight to give to a MindMaps poll for The Royal Gazette showing the OBA with a clear lead of 13 per cent – although with almost a quarter of voters undecided.

It is understood that some OBA polling is predicting a small majority of seats in the House for the party.

The views came as Premier Paula Cox yesterday issued an eve-of-election clarion call to voters to return the PLP for a fourth straight term.

She said at a press conference at Alaska Hall, flanked by 11 of the party’s candidates: “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 deliver real results that even our opponents are now praising.”

Ms Cox cited the FutureCare health programme for seniors and DayCare, which provides child care assistance for young working families.

She added that the PLP had also created Economic Empowerment Zones to boost investment in hard-hit areas, as well as training programmes for the young and the new One Stop Career Shop, to be housed in the old Hamilton Magistrates’ Court.

Ms Cox said: “The PLP candidates – you see some of them here today – request and require you to come out on Monday, December 17 and to choose the PLP. Then, with your support, we will continue to stand strong for Bermudians.”

The party also took a swipe at OBA leader Craig Cannonier, Shadow Education Minister Grant Gibbons and OBA St George’s West candidate Nandi Davis for “hiding” from the public when challenged to debates by their PLP opposite numbers.

A PLP spokeswoman said: “All our candidates have had an opportunity for dialogue with the people of Bermuda. Conversely, the OBA has run a campaign based on scripts and expensive commercials, with no opportunity for exchange.”

The OBA yesterday criticized the PLP’s economic platform.

Shadow Finance Minister Bob Richards said: “Simply promising that the Government will grow ‘thousands of jobs’, as the Premier 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% 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.”

An OBA spokesman said last night: “Bermuda is at a crossroads and the choice for voters on Monday is clear: whether they want more of the same with the current Government or change for the better with the OBA. On December 17, we can change the direction this country is headed. It’s time for change.”