By Ivan Clifford
HAMILTON, Bermuda, Mar 17, CMC — The opposition Progressive Labour Party (PLP) has demanded Premier Michael Dunkley steps down or calls a snap general election after backbencher Mark Pettingill resigned on Thursday, leaving the ruling One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) as a minority party.
Pettingill, a former Attorney-General and legislator for the past 10 years, said he would sit as an independent in his Warwick North East constituency until the next election, due later this year, when he would probably quit politics altogether.
Dunkley, whose OBA won the 2012 general election by 19 seats to 17 but has now lost two of its MPs, described Pettingill’s departure as “disappointing” but refused to cave in to PLP demands.
Pettingill’s colleague Shawn Crockwell, a former tourism and transport minister, resigned from the OBA in protest at Dunkley’s leadership a year ago and has since sat in the House of Assembly as an independent.
It means the OBA and the PLP each has 17 MPs in the House of Assembly, with two independents, although the PLP’s Randy Horton is the Speaker of the House and can vote only in the case of a tie.
Governor John Rankin was asked for comment on whether the Pettingill resignation required him to act, since the government no longer had a majority of members in the House.
A Government House spokesman would only say “in considering any developments in the House of Assembly, the Governor will continue to act in accordance with the terms of the Bermuda constitution.”
Pettingill said he felt compelled to leave the governing party due to conflicts with his legal work, revealing his firm, Chancery Legal, has been in talks with patients of former PLP Premier Dr Ewart Brown, after police recently raided Brown’s clinics.
Pettingill added that he “diametrically and philosophically” opposes the government’s position on numerous issues.
The PLP said in a statement after Pettingill told the media he was quitting the OBA that the Premier should resign or call an election.
“The news that yet another OBA MP, Mark Pettingill, has found it necessary to resign from the party he helped found to sit as an independent calls into question the direction of the country and is yet another signal that the leadership of Michael Dunkley is directionless, ineffective and weak,” the PLP said.
“It should be jarring to all Bermudians that we now, for the first time ever, have a minority government at the helm, and that the OBA cannot secure the passage of any legislation without the assistance of the independent or opposition members.
“On the anniversary of the day MP Shawn Crockwell resigned from cabinet over the government’s mishandling of immigration, this is yet another sign that it is time for the Premier to either resign or go to the country and seek a mandate from the people through a general election.”
In an earlier statement, Dunkley described Pettingill’s resignation as a “disappointing development for a government that has been making steady progress on big problems facing the people of Bermuda”.
“While (Mr Pettingill) explained that he found himself in ‘ongoing professional legal conflict with the government’ on various matters involving his law firm, I also note his statement that the government ‘will have my support on any number of pending legislative matters’.
“I therefore look forward to continuing to work with MP Pettingill on the important matters facing Bermuda — as well as the other independent MP Mr Shawn Crockwell — and thank Mr Pettingill for his service to the OBA.”
In recent months, Pettingill has been a vocal critic of the party he helped to form in May 2011. This year, he delivered a speech on race in the House, which revealed his deep concern with his party’s handling of the issue and was praised by several PLP MPs.
“I have this morning advised the Premier that I will be resigning from the One Bermuda Alliance. I intend to sit as an independent MP until the next general election, at which time I will likely resign from politics,” Pettingill told reporters on Thursday.
“I find myself in a position of ongoing professional legal conflict with the government on various existing litigation and potential matters that my law firm has been approached about having conduct over.
“Furthermore, I have unfortunately found myself diametrically and philosophically opposed to the government’s position or approach on numerous issues in endeavouring to move Bermuda forward. I respect that the Premier, and the cabinet, takes a different view.
“In the interest of the country, I sincerely wish the government every success for the remainder of their tenure in office, recognising that they have in fact accomplished many positive things for the island.”
Pettingill was first elected as an MP for the now defunct United Bermuda Party (UBP), which ran the country for 30 years until it was ousted by the PLP in 1998, in Warwick West in 2007.
Two years later, he was a member of a breakaway group of UBP MPs which formed the Bermuda Democratic Alliance (BDA). In 2011, the BDA merged with the UBP to found the OBA.
In the 2012 election, Pettingill switched to Warwick North East, where he defeated long-serving PLP MP Dale Butler as the OBA won power for the first time.