The fragmentation of the two-party system has left the Virgin Islands Party the undisputed powerhouse of VI politics. The opposing three parties are a work in progress. However, of the three, the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement and National Democratic Party are the more permanent fixtures. Will they survive in their present form? Time will tell.
What can be learned from the April 24 general election? For this eternal observer, the much earlier Commission of Inquiry had spurned a culture of lack of trust in government in the VI. That lack of trust may have been there well before the start of the very public inquiry. The inquiry simply exacerbated that trust deficiency, revealing the underbelly of the beast.
Subsequent events including the arrest of the previous leader of the territory on drug conspiracy charges did not help.
The low voter turnout was clear evidence of the preceding assertions. A deficit in engagement with the political process, especially from young voters, is never a good thing.
The ‘science’ of politics
Now, in an earlier story, I stated that politics is science: social science. It is always best to treat politics as math and not poetry — albeit the cliché is appropriate that politicians campaign in poetry but govern in prose. In other words, they campaign as painters but rule as bureaucrats.
I previously described politics as linear in that it looks back at past narratives of political power and how the present play affects the future. Politics is also asymmetrical in that it observes the sideways and peripheral factors that affect public opinion, power and governance: the holistic.
The habit of religious societies of Africa and the Caribbean eschewing polling and statistics and instead using prophecy to predict political outcome is flawed. The VI election of April 24 had its prophets and soothsayers, but they were mainly wrong in their predictions, as usual.
Ultimately, the strength of the district game left the VIP with the most seats of any party: six. The districts decided the outcome over at-large seats this year, though the VIP was short of one seat to form a government. Three remaining parties got between one and three seats.
There is a caveat: The three opposition parties together got more votes than the VIP, signaling that the people may have wanted change.
The rumour mill is a key component of the VI political system. The territory is a large village. The public knew the outcome of negotiations to form a new government, and the crossing-over of an opposition party member to form a government, well before it was news on the national media.
In the past four elections, the at-large vote decided the success of a political party and the outcome. This time, it would appear this factor in VI elections was less of a decider. The strength of the district candidates was paramount in delivering a victory for the VIP, in addition to its one at-large representative. The at-large vote remains crucial to the process, however, and the April 24 election may have been a one-off in minimising the at-large effect on the trajectory of the election.
Hopefully, for the next four years the VIP government will continue to manage the affairs of the territory under the Damocles’ sword of the Order in Council and a much more vigilant United Kingdom. Thankfully, the key players in the present government appear not to be under the cloud of Commission of Inquiry-driven investigations.
Public frustration remains at a high level as revealed in a lower voter turnout than previous elections. Anger remains, as demonstrated by the outcry over a politician crossing the floor and enabling the VIP to form the government.
The lesson going forward, assuming the Constitution remains the same, is that parties must compete in all districts with candidates on the ground. The better the ground game — with boots on the ground going door to door — the greater the likelihood of success at an election. The VIP has a sustainable grassroots game, possesses structure and organisation, and is the more unified organisation. The party understands that it is better to compete at the local level and lose than not to compete at all.
Going forward, politicians cannot take the low voter turnout of around 50 percent as a new norm. Low citizen morale is never a good thing for democracy. The political party is wise that takes every effort to address this matter. The party and politician that causes low morale to improve will increase turnout in their favor. That will be a trump card in four years. That means engaging with voters at the grassroots level daily over four years, and not just at election season. The party that has the best ground game over the next four years will have the better chance of success at the next general election.