Column: Growing Pains Of A Young Democracy

July 10, 2017

[Opinion column written by Voters Rights Association]

Although Bermuda’s Parliament held its first session in 1620 it is only relatively recently that it has enjoyed proper representative democracy.

The Island’s first general election held on the basis of universal adult suffrage and equal voting took place on May 22, 1968, so Bermuda’s is an immature democracy, a young democracy that, in our opinion, still has plenty of growing to do.

It is in that context that the Voters Rights Association [VRA] is campaigning for a Voters Bill of Rights to put into law some things that we believe will enhance, and therefore strengthen, the democratic process in Bermuda.

Currently the party in power invites you to vote at its election, so we want to see the right to vote enshrined in law and we also want to see the right to fixed term elections. At present it is up to the Government of the day to pick the date of the general election, giving the ruling party an unfair advantage.

Is it right that a candidate can be parachuted into a constituency they have never lived in? We don’t think so and so we want to see election candidates to be from the constituency they live in or an adjoining constituency.

We think that will lead to a better understanding and representation of that constituency and therefore be of increased benefit to the people who live there.

Debate is important to determine the facts and to see if the potential representative understands the constituents needs, not just the party’s needs, so we want the right for all election candidates in a constituency to participate in open debate.

One of the most important issues we want to see addressed is the right of constituents to recall parliamentarians they have elected. Is it OK that an MP should declare themselves as independent MP even though they have not been elected as one?

All eligible Bermudians overseas should have the right to vote. We have witnessed discussions and promises but no action. The right to a fair absentee ballot voting system must be enshrined in legislation.

Referendums are used in jurisdictions around the world and if Bermuda is to be truly democratic we think that there should be a right to voter referendums.

Government must listen and act when the people have spoken. Referendums are an appropriate vehicle to raise and determine public issues and citizen’s initiatives and it takes representative democracy one step further.

There are two other areas where we believe urgent action is necessary.

The Auditor’s General’s powers need to be strengthened to ensure full and proper access to all relevant financial and other supporting files and records, including those of Government suppliers. The Auditor General should also have the power of subpoena.

The Human Rights Commission should be a completely independent commission established in the Bermuda Constitution. The Commission should be proactive in looking after the rights of Bermudians [not acting as a defence unit to protect the government].

The VRA also believes that it is critical that the powers of the Ombudsman are increased to include the power to be able subpoena Cabinet Ministers and Junior Ministers.

All these can be included in a Voters Bill of Rights.

The VRA has written to all the parliamentary candidates seeking election to the House of Assembly on July 18.

We wrote: “The VRA is adopting the position of negative resolution whereby only in the instance where you object to any principle of the Voters’ Bill of Rights will your objection be noted and subject to open debate.

“Having observed the process of ‘onboarding’ and the difficulty of reaching consensus we are offering you the opportunity for ‘off boarding’ instead. That ‘off boarding’ to take shape in the form of declaring any objection to the basic principles of the Voters’ Bill of Rights.

“We ask that you clearly state your objection to any particular principle and put forth your reasoned arguments against that principle concisely and clearly.”

The letter adds: “Party politics has gone astray and this sentiment is being voiced consistently in the community; and the VRA feels that supporting the principles of a Voters’ Bill of Rights is a great opportunity for both political parties and individual candidates to stand for a respectful and participatory process that will move to deepen engagement in our democracy.

“Both political parties profess their desire to make Bermuda better and the Voters’ Bill of Rights is an important and fundamental course of action to fulfill and honour that goal.”

If you believe in strengthening democracy in Bermuda, we would ask that you approach your parliamentary candidates and ask them to support a Voters Bill of Rights. Make is plain to them that you are dissatisfied with the current system and that the electorate deserves a bigger role.

Our mission statement says: “The mission of the Voters’ Rights Association [VRA] is to provide a voice and a vehicle within the political process for voters to participate more fully in the policy decisions that affect their collective lives.”

Please make your voices heard.

  • Ian Macdonald-Smith, VRA Chairman
  • Richard Powell, VRA Vice Chairman
  • Sakeena Talbot, VRA Secretary
  • Tasha Jones, VRA Committee
  • Stuart Hayward, VRA Co-Chairman Emeritus
  • Geoff Parker, VRA Co-Chairman Emeritus

- Voters Rights Association


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