Street soundings are pointing towards a coalition government for the Virgin Islands after the upcoming general election. Is the belief that there will be no clear majority for either of the two dominant political parties valid?

After nearly 20 years of two-party governance, and two horrific hurricanes in September 2017, the territory today is in a sorry state.

It is often stated that the territory in the late 1980s and early 1990s was better off than it is today. So no politician or party is in the clear in the upcoming general election, apart from newcomers who have never sat in the House of Assembly.

There is weariness on the street. Jack and Jill Voter are tired of the slow disaster recovery effort. Voters are looking for leaders who will drive a swift and strong economic recovery. Voters desire visionary and strategic leadership.

However, there is yet to be offered to the general public a cohesive and coherent vision that is appropriate and capable of pulling the VI into the type of prosperity that the territory should have been enjoying today.

Some months back, this writer offered a vision of a territory with gross domestic product driven by a tourism and maritime economy, sitting upon a pristine and innovatively leveraged ecosystem and agronomy.

However many residents remain obsessed with stuff, even after half that stuff was blown away by Hurricane Irma. Meanwhile, too many residents could care less about environmental matters, such as clean energy, climate change and recycling, which are the sciences of tomorrow. The territory requires a culture change before it can experience transformative social and economic change.

Non-transparency

Of the present line up of political contestants for the upcoming general election, apart from newcomers, none will escape the charge of non-transparency and unaccountable governance.

The mantra of the VI Party appears to be a cry for transparency and accountability. One must wait to see if the party practises what it preaches if it wins power. The assertions made on transparency are a good start, as social and economic prosperity cannot be achieved when government is opaque and unaccountable.

Arguably, the sorry state of the VI today is not simply the result of Hurricane Irma, but what happened before that. Irma exposed the reality of a territory that for years has not practised fully audited and transparent governance, and has been suffering terribly from a culture of opaque and subterranean governance.

Party system

The preceding does not imply voters want coalition government, however. The two-party mould will be hard to reshape. From the early 1990s the two-party system in the VI has been a core factor in the territory’s politics. Why? Because a two-party system tends to generate a type of gravity of its own, pulling voters and resources in the direction of one of the two parties.

Two-party politics is brand culture. Shoppers go into a store for soda. There may be five different types of cola drink on offer. However, the vast majority of shoppers buy the Coca Cola brand. That is the power of brand. Brand works much the same way in politics.

Voters may be for months in a state of indecision about which person and which party to vote for. However, as campaigns begin there is a tendency that two political parties become twin polarities, pulling all the energy in the direction of these polarities and leaving the newcomers to twist in the wind. That has been the political narrative in the VI since the early 1990s.

A ‘mug’s game’

Punters say things will be different in the upcoming general election as there will be a number of political heavy hitters more widely dispersed, and forming political parties of their own.

Predicting a general election in the VI is a “mug’s game.” Why? The variables are very complicated, and the outcome uncertain as uncertain can get.

There are no accurate statistics or metrics on population subsets in terms of migration, age, gender, race, ethnicity and social status, which allow pollsters to make reasonably accurate projections.

There have been huge demographic changes that have seen the population of multi-generation VI become a minority. How this will impact the upcoming election no one can tell.

The only prediction this “punter” will make is that the two-party narrative will steer the course of the campaign. However, a victory by one or more of the heavy hitting politicians who are no longer part of the two-party twin polarity may well indeed mean coalition government, which, considering the record of two-party governance over the past decades, may indeed be a good thing.

 

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