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BVI Feb 25, 2019, General Election Post-Mortem

The election had a number of firsts, i.e., the largest number of freshman legislators (7) ever elected for an HOA term. Photo: Provided
By Edgar Leonard

In the February 25, 2019, BVI election, the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) led by Premier Andrew A. Fahie (D-1) captured eight of the thirteen seats in the unicameral House of Assembly (HOA).

The National Democratic Party (NDP)—former government—led by former Minister of Education and Culture Myron V. Walwyn, captured three seats, the Progressive United (PU) led by Julian Fraser (D-3) capturing one seat, and Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM) led by Ronnie W. Skelton, a former Leader of the Opposition and Minister of Health and Social Development in the NDP government, captured the remaining seat.  The VIP, having won 8 of the 13 seats, was sworn in as the new government, replacing the NDP.

Fixed Election Date

A general election is constitutionally due every four years in the BVI. However, the exact date for the election is uncertain; it is a guessing game as to the exact date when the election is going to be held. Further, the Governor with the advice of the Premier can call an election at any time. For example, after months of speculation, the HOA was dissolved on January 23, 2019, and an election date set for February 25, 2019. Undoubtedly, the current process provides the incumbent government with a definite advantage over the opposition. Nonetheless, the playing field can be levelled by setting a fixed date for the election. The process can be modelled after the United Kingdom (UK); in the UK, a general election is due the first Thursday in May every five years. Moreover, an election can be held sooner if the government loses a vote of no confidence or if two-thirds of the House of Commons vote for a new election. Further, the BVI 2007 constitution should be amended to effect the change for a fixed date election. Setting a fixed date for election will level the playing field for both government and opposition, remove the uncertainty in regard to the election date, enable better planning of political campaigns and improve the overall electoral process.

Campaigning

For the February 25 general election, many candidates launched their candidacies and campaigns just mere weeks before the election date. For the most part, it is challenging to launch an effective and successful campaign just mere weeks before an election. A successful campaign must start early for candidates to introduce themselves and get in the public eye. Further, for a successful campaign, candidates must know what voters need, create a vision, hope and cause; resign to hard work, engage voters, create a plan of action, connect genuinely with the grassroots and so on. All this takes time to integrate into an effective campaign. The late start may have been a disadvantage for many candidates.  The 2018/2019 election campaign is water under the bridge. Nonetheless, today is not too early to start planting the seeds, building interpersonal relationships and starting campaigning for 2023.

Election Results

Four parties, VIP, PU, PVIM and NDP (incumbent) and two independent candidates competed in the general election; 41 candidates competed for the 13 seats in the HoA; VIP was the only party to field a full slate of 13 candidates.  VIP, PU and PVIM, the three opposition parties, captured 10 of 13 seats to serve in the Fourth Term of the HOA. VIP captured 8 of the 10 seats won by the opposition parties. Further, 7 of the 13 seats were won by first-term legislators; all of the 7 first time winning legislators competed on the VIP ticket. Green is VIP colour so it can be said that the Green New Team is in power (the Green New Deal is an initiative being advocated by the US Democratic Party). Moreover, 9715 or approximately 65% of the 14,939 registered voters voted in the election. The speculation is if the turnout were higher the outcome may have been different. There are also opinions that the lack of full slates by some parties may have affected the outcome of the election. But this is all mere speculation. Additionally, of note and one of the biggest surprises of the election was the defeat of Myron V. Walwyn, leader of the NDP.

Further, the outcome of the election indicates that a majority of voters may have voted the party line. VIP the winning party received approximately 47% of the votes cast. Though before the election there was talk of a high likelihood of a coalition government, the VIP won 8 seats; it also won all 4 At-Large seats, along with Districts 1, 5, 7 and 9 seats. Additionally, 7 of 8 members on the VIP team are first-term legislators; Premier Fahie is the sole member with legislative and executive experience.  Consequently, the BVI is facing a myriad of challenges so the new members will have a very short learning curve in arresting these challenges; they have to hit the ground sprinting. Moreover, the election had a number of firsts, i.e., the largest number of freshman legislators (7) ever elected for an HOA term, Shereen D. Flax-Charles (At Large) is the first female Virgin Gordian elected to the HOA, and use of electronic tabulating machines to tabulate votes.

Promises

During the recent election campaign, many candidates from all parties rolled out a smorgasbord, an array of promises. However, few, if any, listed the cost of the projects, what was the source of the project's funding, could projects be funded without increasing taxes, will taxes be increased, what projects, if any, will be delayed, what is the opportunity cost, what is the timeline and so on. As a minimum, every project whether promised on the campaign trail or developed during the normal budget planning cycle should be costed and have a funding source.  Time will tell if candidates were overpromising and have under delivered on projects. Voters must get engaged and challenge candidates on promises, especially if the promises appear unrealistic and political gimmicks. Voters must also hold legislators’ feet to the fire on their promises.

Rebuilding and governing

Every election is important, for it provides the means and opportunity for voters to elect representatives to represent them in the HOA; VI is a representative/parliamentary democracy. Nevertheless, the February 25 election was crucial and critical since the territory is in one of its more challenging periods in its history. The territory was devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria, two monster storms, in September 2017. The storms caused approximately $3.6B in damages to infrastructure, utilities, government facilities including public safety facilities, medical facilities, schools; housing, tourist facilities etc. The storms also impacted the economy, gross domestic product, standard of living and quality of life, and so on.

Consequently, the territory is in a massive rebuilding mode. Further, there are high expectations that the new government put the territory on a fast recovery track. However, the high expectations will collide with the reality of limited financial resources, time, construction capacity etc. As such, the VIP government will have a daunting, challenging task of putting the territory on a stable, steady, progressive and sustainable course in a short time frame. Nonetheless, it campaigned/auditioned for and got the job to lead the territory during this challenging period so it is highly expected to deliver. If it failed to deliver, history will be unkind to it. It has to strategically and tactically plan the work and work the plan strategically and tactically.

Edgar Leonard is a Virgin Islander, US Navy Lieutenant Commander (retired) and a freelance political analyst.

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