December 17th, 2012. Bermuda went to the polls for a general election.
Polls opened at 8am and closed at 8pm.
As a candidate in the election, as an Independent in Constituency 20, I was at the polling station for the whole time, save for the occassional bathroom break, a short period when I was borrowing a wheeled office chair from across the street to facilitate a voter who had just broken her hip and had no wheelchair, and a lunch break across the street in the Beach.
I tried to shake hands with everyone, but with four candidates, as well as additional helpers (at least for the OBA and PLP candidates), voters were running a gauntlet of handshakes, and several did their best to slip by, while others either didn’t see the outstretched hands or made a point of only greeting their chosen candidate and snubbing the others.
When the polls closed at 8pm the polling station was briefly locked while the officials and observers rearranged the layout, and then we were invited in and settled down for the count.
It was apparent very early on that neither I or the other Independent had won, or were going to make much of an impact in the poll. In the end we both won about 3% of the vote.
It was less clear, at least initially, how the PLP would fare in this race, but by the time we were halfway through it was clear the OBA was going to win the seat with ease, and the PLP candidate excused himself to get some fresh air, and was not allowed back in. The OBA candidate had left the polling station an hour before the polls closed, missing the last voters, and did not return until the counting was completed, leaving her mother and sister as observers during the counting process.
When the count was finished, and my not unexpected (in truth) loss was fully known, I, and others, finally left the station. I chatted briefly with the other candidates and observers, thanked them all, congratulated the victor (who was waiting outside at this point), and then met a couple friend who had been in the Beach all this time.
They greeted me with the news that Paula Cox had lost her seat, and that other PLP ‘big names’ had lost or were losing (Jennifer Smith, Dale Butler, Lt. Col. Burch). We then went back to the Beach, and watched the remaining results roll in. It was clear to me about 30 minutes before officially called, that the OBA had won, although I had expected Ms Ming to win in #2 and Mr Blakeney to lose in #13. In the end, the parliamentary arithmetic was the same either way, at 19 OBA MPs and 17 PLP MPs.
It is hard to explain the complex emotions that I felt at this time.
My own loss was not unexpected to me, but the extent of the PLP’s losses came as a surprise. I had expected they would lose seats, but thought they would be the ones holding the slight parliamentary majority of 19. I had also expected at least one Independent to succeed, with Mr Kim Swan being the most likely.
Apart from my table in the back of the Beach, it seemed that the rest of the clientele were pro-OBA, and erupted into merriment once the OBA victory was confirmed. I sat there, stunned at the losses, while cheers and laughter came from the front room. After a while my group left, walking up Parliament Street with the vague notion of attending the wake now unfolding outside Alaska Hall. We passed Reid Street and saw the crowd between the OBA’s two HQs, dancing and cheering, a solitary guard at the street barrier looking in wonderment into the distance towards King Street.
On Church Street my group split up, no longer feeling like continuing to Alaska Hall, partly for not wishing to be mistaken as OBA supporters, partly to avoid the depression that would be descending on the crowds, and partly because we each wished to digest the results in private.
I walked my friend to her bike opposite Flannagans, and we both sat in silence on a bench there for a while, before we both went off separately. I walked the deserted streets to where I’m staying, thinking about the meaning of the PLP loss, the OBA win. I think I got home around half past one, and spent the next hour staring at the ceiling. The next day I rested my feet and, even now, am coming to terms with what this all means, for Bermuda, for the PLP, for our future.
I’ll write a more analytical piece on the PLP’s loss later. Why I think they lost, my experiences on the doorstep and the concerns of pro-PLP voters that I met.