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Democracy & Voters' Voting Power

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander (British), an amateur freelance writer, and a graduate of Florida A&M University. Photo: Provided
Edgar Leonard

Voting is fundamental and sacred to all rights, civic duty, and personal social responsibility. It matters and is integral to functioning Democracy; it is the language of Democracy, the ability to partake in civic life, and provides a voice in choosing and electing political representatives.

Nevertheless, voting was not always a default right for Virgin Islanders of African descent. It was the province of the elite, planter class, and propertied White men. It took robust action by many local warriors and freedom fighters Virgin Islanders, e.g., Theodoplh Faulkner, Carlton de Castro, and Glanville Fonseca, leaders of the Great March of November 24, 1949, etc., who agitated, protested, advocated, and sacrificed for change. The change resulted in bringing about the right and freedom to vote. Consequently, now, eligible Virgin Islanders can vote to elect nine (9) District Representatives, and four (4) At Large Representatives to the House of Assembly (HoA) to represent them and act on their interest, delegating some power to work on their behalf. Nonetheless, voters still hold true power.


Democracy (from Greek means 'rule by the people') has become widely regarded as an ideal political theory or philosophy over the last century. By 2020, at least 50% of the world's population enjoyed political institutions with high levels of democratic governance. Nevertheless, Democracy was not always this highly regarded. For example, Thomas Jefferson, a friend of Democracy, said it is "Nothing more than mob rule." However, it survived the test of time, for former UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, speaking before the House of Commons in 1947, said. "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been  tried from time to time."

Moreover, the  Greek city-state of Athens is viewed as the cradle of Democracy. The system of government rolled out by the Athenians, i.e., by the popular leader Cleisthenes in the Fifth Century, is regarded as the purest/direct form of Democracy. In a direct democracy, all citizens serve as legislators, i.e., all citizens vote for or against any proposed legislation. Direct Democracy may work in extremely small settings but would neither be effective nor practical in the Virgin Islands (VI)[British] or other locales. Consequently, Representative Democracy, i.e., citizens elect members to represent their interests and advocate on their behalf in Parliament, Assemblies, House of Assemblies, Legislative Councils, Senate, etc., is the opposite of direct Democracy. For example, the UK has a Parliamentary Democracy under a constitutional Monarchy; the VI, as an Overseas  Territory of the UK, is also a representative democracy.

Representative Democracy Vs Voters Power

As noted above, the VI is a Representative Democracy with eligible voters going to the polls every four years, voting to elect 13 members (9 District Reps, 4 At Large) to the House of Assembly to represent their interests. Nevertheless, the voters only delegated limited power to members needed to represent their best and the territories' best interests, not absolute power. Voters still have the true power and the responsibility to hold elected members accountable for their performance and action. Nonetheless, a fallacious belief persists in the VI and other regional Anglophone countries that politicians have absolute power to do what they want, how they want when they want, and where they want. It is a falsity that persists because it persists. The electorate may have more power than they realised. Disappointed and falsely believing that politicians have absolute power to act, voters give up out of disgust and disengage from the political process. Voter doubt and distrust extend to their indifference to voting, falsely believing their vote does not matter. Well, indeed, every vote matters; every vote that is not cast means the few who voted for the many who may not have voted. The test of who has the true power is during election campaign season; voters have the power. From my vantage point and perspective, politicians can rationalise not getting elected in the first instance but not getting reelected is a different matter. It bruises their ego. Further, voters can prevent elected officials from usurping their power.

Further, If the VI people want change, they must unite, harness their power, engage civically, and advocate for positive change. In the past, collective, cooperative, collaborative effort and energy have borne fruit. For example, in the 1940s, like now, a portion of the VI  population was frustrated with the rule of the UK representative---Administrator John A. C. Cruikshank. In response, Theopdoplh Faulkner, an Anegadian fisherman, led approximately 1,500 people from around a 6000-7000 population from every village and hamlet on Tortola and major outlying islands through the streets of Road Town, Tortola, in The  Great March of November 24, 1949, which is currently being recognised and celebrated as a public holiday. The marchers protested and sought redress of fundamental freedoms, civic liberties, basic human rights (Consistent UN terms and charter, and John Locke's writings), inequality, inequities, racial justice, etc. The Great March resulted in a) Legislative Council, suspended in 1901, reinstated, b) the roll of a new constitution in 1950, and c) providing the opportunity for local Virgin Islanders for the first time to vote directly for elected members in the 1950 General Election. And in 1954, Adult Suffrage was attained. The VI may be facing a similar situation to the 1940s and needs to unite, working collectively, cooperatively, and collaboratively to refight the same colonial battles fought in the 1940s and new ones.

Moreover, the Voters' role in effective governing must be more than a) voting in the general election every four years, b) going into political hibernation, and c) complaining about government and politicians' poor and under-performance; voters must get actively civically engaged in holding government feet to the fire. They must avoid playing the game of chicken. i.e., staying back in the shadows and hoping their friends, neighbours, or someone else will step forward to fight needed battles. Further, the future of the VI for current generations and generations yet unborn weighs and depends heavily on the unified and focused actions of current generations of Virgin Islanders. The VI is facing an existential crisis with many social, political, and economic challenges and is teetering on edge, waiting anxiously but confidently for the next Theodolph Faulkner, Noel Lloyd, Lavity Stoutt, Christopher Flemings,  Ralph Oneil, etc., to emerge to lead it out of crisis, avoiding it plunging into a hyper-crisis.

Edgar Leonard is a native Virgin Islander and an amateur freelance writer. 

17 Responses to “Democracy & Voters' Voting Power”

  • Hazle E Roberts (30/11/2022, 09:56) Like (0) Dislike (2) Reply
    Its hypocrisy to hear everybody celebrating noel Lloyd's name when in the past they all thumb their nose and call him crazy. The same UK got you all crucifying your best jewel.
    • E.Leonard (30/11/2022, 12:58) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
      Matthew 13:57: “ A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.” I’m going to take a WAG and assume that not all Virgin Islanders thumb their noses at and looked down upon Noel as crazy. Undoubtedly, Noel led front the from, demonstrating exemplary leadership, enduring much personal sacrifices to protect and preserve the interest of Virgin Islanders. I’m not going to judge others for having a different view of things from Noel; they are entitled to their opinions which should be respected. Nonetheless , from my experience and perspective, ideas take time to take root. I’m sure that many Virgin Islanders appreciation for Noel’s action(s) have changed since the 1960s. Specifically, Noel’s and Positive Action Movement was instrumental in reversing the one-sided , lose-lose, Kenneth Bates Hill on Wickhams Cay and 4/5 of Anegada, returning Virgin Islanders birthright to them. Noel was a deep critical thinker and a deep reservoir of knowledge and it is others lost if they chose to thumb their nose at him with scorn and avoid engaging him. I was fortunate to have engaged with him conservation, listening to his telling me about his experience in Africa among other things. It is regrettable how he was treated and only recognized in the last days in the sunset of his life.
  • asura (30/11/2022, 10:22) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    another great read
  • NPolitico (30/11/2022, 13:14) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    @E. Leonard, you have laid the gauntlet for the electorate to realize they have true power and must act and cannot throw their hands up in despair. They must get engage and move beyond hope and dreams. Another family and I was having who has the power conversation a few days ago. Does anyone know how and why politicians were able to usurp so much power from voters? My take is that it resulted from political patronage and dependency.
  • U AGAIN (30/11/2022, 13:46) Like (0) Dislike (2) Reply
    U and csc are pretenders ???? enjoys playing games with other people's mind / you dishing out certain parts of our history but very reluctant to reveal some parts , and csc hiding behind the Bible and playing politics one day band the next day he's a messiah and th
    • Troll (01/12/2022, 07:22) Like (2) Dislike (1) Reply
      You ain’t tired of trolling people. Are you getting your jollies by the nuisance and waste of trolling people. It is ok to disagree with other people’s opinion. But disagreeing without any proper counter and just being a nuisance fly in the ointment is not useful. Use your blogging by presenting data and information to the readers and people. Be part of the solution, not the people. Your trolling is annoying. Your pattern is clear and changing name is not fooling anyone. Be bold and use your name so people know who you are.
  • Vg man (30/11/2022, 14:26) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Noel & I vibed few times.I learned a lot of history from him.
  • Yep (30/11/2022, 16:10) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Noel was who a true tortolian was , having known him , all respect to him And all the others that have passed on , that was like him ( A real human being ) / some people will say you
    dont meet much people like that these days ???? OR when you get right to it ????
  • Broad Brush (30/11/2022, 16:16) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    Some people may have viewed Noel as crazy. But it is unfair to use a broad brush to paint all of us as doing so. Mental health was a problem when Noel was with us and it still is. BVI people are a little more than insensitive to people with mental challenges. Government has not grasp how to deal with it. They treat it as a law enforcement. Its hands off anpproach and attitude is to lock them up so that they will get well. Here is a news flash. They are mentally ill and will not get well without counseling and treatment. Invest in human capital. Noel treatment was a consequent of the BVI cultural attitude on mentality health. Mental health challenges are increasing, not diminishing in the BVI, so it is time to get serious about addressing it. What are waiting for? It is time to get ah dun? We also need to hold government accountable.
  • Curious (30/11/2022, 18:00) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
    Many of us believe, rightly or wrongly thy government will over promise and often under deliver and polutcians will do what they want to do do. What tools, if any, do voters have to force politicians to do what they were elected do? It is easy to say that voters have the true power but the reality on the ground is that the politicians have the power. All the action that voters have are lagging action, we need leading action. Politicians know that we can just talk and nothing can happen until election may be.
    • @Curious (30/11/2022, 19:45) Like (0) Dislike (0) Reply
      @Curious, you politicians by the power of the vote by getting civically engaged and organize voters to hold politicians accountable. Reward politicians for their performance in office being practical and reasonable, understanding what they can be able to do.
  • Stealth (30/11/2022, 23:00) Like (2) Dislike (0) Reply
    It will take a paradigm shift in attitude to change the behavioral belief of the electorate that politicians, not they, have the power. The attitude, behaviour and belief are to engrained now to be simply reset. The almost absolute power has an adverse impact on the governing process. The process is deeply flawed. The process greatly impacts the public yet it is not a major priority of reform for the public. The longer it lingers though the more stench develops.
  • Political Observer (PO) (01/12/2022, 08:15) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    Post The Great March of November 1949, the BVI achieved ministerial government in 1967. Yet the BVI people and BVI political maturity is still a work in progress. This is supported amply by current events, ie, one-sided COI, etc. The CoI indeed was one-sided( a lone, handpicked commissioner’s opinion) and seemed to target the shortcomings of functions controlled by Black locales; whereas, functions falling under White UK nationals were overlooked, stressing the old attitude that might is right and white is right. It is the old colonial attitude. Borrowing from another blogger in another article: “ The politics of colonialism is exclusion, exploitation and expropriation, extraction, etc.” Nevertheless, regardsless of the flaws of the CoI and continuing prominence of colonialism, the CoI unearth some systemic weakness and the fallout highlights what is an open secret, ie, the unilateral power of the Crown through the Governor. The BVI has a myriad of structural problems, ie, social, political and economic. Among these are the lack of active civic engagement by a majority of voters. I agree with Leonard that the electorate have much unused power, usurping their power to politcians and then complain l that nothing is getting done. And agree if people want change, they must get civically engaged. In the near-term though, only nuance change, if any, will happen.
  • Undercover Observer (01/12/2022, 14:29) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    The BVI indeed is in an existential crisis. And all Virgin Islanders must share in the territory being in this crisis. The voters had a hands off approach while the ship of state was taking on water and leaning to port. It will take all hands to stabilize the ship but Virgin Islanders so polarized and divided that stabilization is proving to be a heavy challenge that it should be. Some one much smarter than me wrote that a house divided will fall. Well, in the same vein, a country divided will falter. Can my compatriots rise to the task at hand, ie, come together and rescue a sinking ship. We rise together or sink together. Talk, talk, talk is not the solution. What is needed is positive action.
  • Ne Timeas (01/12/2022, 21:08) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    If we acknowledge and accept that politicians have usurped power from the people, a little wisdom abolitionist Fredrick Douglass is with worth contemplating: “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and never will.” Moreover, the colonialists have taken back the little power that they devolve to the local BVI government. The central idea here is that if Virgin Islanders want the power back from politicians and if the BVI wants to get the devolved power that taken back by the UK, the VI people must demand it back. Grabbing back is not self-executing, the people must work holistically and collectively to get the power back. Without collective effort nothing will l happen and all the talk will be akin to a dog chasing a car and catches up with it. And then nothing happens.
  • Eagle and Buffalo (01/12/2022, 21:42) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    My BVI brethren are good at talking the talk but laggard in walking the walk. They are Lazard and donot want tot do the work, hoping for magic to the things which needs to get done. As Leonard noted, they are passionate about the game of chicken, pushing and hoping that others will do the heavy lifting. IMO this attitude ie engrained in the national psyche and is not going to change no time soon. My BVI walk directly with eyes wide open into the colonialist trap—-Divide and Rule, buying into if you’re white, you are right. We walk into the trap over and over ahsin, getting ensnarled. Then we compound and exacerbate being ensnarled in the trap by buying into self-hatred and self-discrimination. We must stop being pawns in the colonialist game and trap. BVI fix thyself!

    [Lets lead like eagles, not careen off the cliff like buffaloes]
  • RealPol (02/12/2022, 03:20) Like (1) Dislike (0) Reply
    It is the worst of time; it is the best of time; it is time of wisdom; it is time foolishness. All of this prose is applicable to the BVI. It is so clear yet is cloudy. The oath is so straight yet so crooked. Unity is needed and near yet so distant. I say no more and no less.

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