Bermuda: Former premier seeking to re-enter active politics

The former Premier of Bermuda, Sir John Swan, has suggested that he could return to the political arena if he received support from the public.

The 88-year-old made an impassioned plea for Bermudians to consider putting themselves forward as independent candidates for seats in the House of Assembly — and said he could be one of them.

In a message to the voters of Smith’s North, he asked: “Would you like for me to run in your district? Would you support me?

“If I don’t get a response and there’s no public feeling about it and people want to stay where they are, guess what? I don’t suffer.”

The seat was made vacant by the retirement from politics of One Bermuda Alliance MP and former Premier Michael Dunkley last month.

Sir John publicised two telephone numbers and an e-mail address so that constituents can make contact to express whether or not they think he should stand.

He said: “Constituency 10, if I haven’t heard from you, then I will not run.

“I will leave it, or if you choose to have somebody else I don’t mind.”

Sir John did not say how much positive feedback he felt was required to enter the race, only that he would make a decision once David Burt, the Premier, announced the date of the by-election.

Just a few hours after Sir John finished his press conference yesterday, a government spokeswoman publicised that the Smith’s North by-election will be held on May 22.

Already named as candidates are Progressive Labour Party government senator Lindsay Simmons, and political newcomer Robert King for the OBA.

Seen as the architect of modern Bermuda, Sir John was first elected to Parliament in 1972, winning the Paget East constituency for the United Bermuda Party.

He became Premier in January 1982, and stood down in 1995 after a referendum on Independence was rejected.

Sir John said it was time for “talks around the country” about political contenders who were not tied to a party.

Asked if he knew of anyone else who was willing to stand as an independent candidate, he said: “I have received calls from people who said they intend to stand at the next election. This process is just starting but if it doesn’t get momentum very fast it will die.

“Let’s find out if the people want it. It’s the will of the people. We bring ideas to the process but it’s not my will, it’s the will of the people.”

He also launched an attack on Bermuda’s “winner takes all” political system which he said had become “tribal”, as well as the calibre of today’s MPs.

Sir John said: “I see less people wanting to become involved in party politics. I’ve talked to the business community and everybody said ‘I don’t want to get involved in party politics’.

“Where does that leave us? To sit back, suck our thumbs, live in disgust and fear and displeasure? Do something about it.

“Do we simply roll over an play dead and let things continue, or is Bermuda going to be at the forefront of change?”

Sir John said that the island repeatedly reinvented itself in order to be successful, and that although a buoyant international business sector fuelled the economy, it’s presence here was not guaranteed.

He insisted it was essential for Bermuda to build relationships with overseas partners “to let them know we’re current”, before adding: “I don’t think we’re doing that because I don’t think the people in politics are in the mode of understanding that in the first place.

“We have to embrace the world and bring it to our little crucible.

“We need people in politics prepared to bring about that change. This is my last opportunity to at least present to Bermuda a solution.

“I think we need to encourage people to come forward to be independent Members of Parliament and they can form a coalition to run the country.

“It doesn’t mean that you would not have the PLP or the OBA, but what you do is you allow other people to participate.

“That’s why I’m calling for the opportunity for Bermudians to think about running as independent members in all constituencies across the island.

“It has to be a cross mix of people from different industries, from different walks of life and political perspectives so that we end up with a country that is run by people who are bringing relevance to what Bermuda is and what Bermuda can be. I don’t see that happening now.

“We have picked people because of popularity but mainly because of party politics. The end result is you can pick anybody. Sometimes they pick them just because they say they want to run but they don’t really have much to offer.

“I’ve been amazed at how little critical thinking and intellectual thinking there has been in the process.

“So I may be uninformed and uneducated but if I am, I pity the rest of them because I don’t see that contribution being made.”

Sir John pointed out that independent MPs had delivered “responsible government” up until 1968 when political parties formed.

He said: “Political parties will probably always exist but it’s been such a polarising effect now that we’ve lost sight of why people were elected to Parliament.

“People were elected to Parliament to serve the public, but we’ve lost sight of that and I’m not sure why they’re elected nowadays.

“The only time people reach out to the public now is election time: ‘get me elected or get my party elected’. You have gone from individual responsibility to party responsibility, and whatever the party says, everybody has to toe the line.

“The result is, whoever is leader of the party is the leader of the tribe, so we’ve gone to a form of tribalism. That tribalism gets to a stage where it becomes very myopic.”

Sir John added: “I think that we don’t know who we are because we’ve gotten so used to what we have that we think that’s the way it should be. Do you think we are at a stage where what’s happening represents the will of the people?

“I’m working for a change in Bermuda that says ‘we can do together, not separately’.

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