In 20 years, the state of Virgin Islands politics has never seen the flux and flow it sees today. In the past 20 years, the two-party system has governed the political landscape. Two-party politics has been a static and immovable beast. Two-party rule has defined general elections, defied attempts by independent candidates to alter the narrative, and decided the success of politicians to achieve their political and personal ambitions for two decades.
Today, the VI political landscape resembles a badly scrambled egg. It is also volatile and unpredictable.
Now, for all the street-corner talk of coalition government, there is no real evidence a coalition of political parties is what VI residents and voters want. And seasoned politicians and pundits fully understand the power of two-party governance to become self-fulfilling. That is why there was war within both the VI Party and the National Democratic Party during recent leadership elections.
Why the intensity of these internal elections? The intensity sprang from the understanding that the leader who controls the political party brand and organisation is very hard to beat. That reality remains a fact today in this pundit’s opinion.
Now the flux and flow of the pre-campaign season — with general elections now scheduled to take place before May — has been dizzying, defying even gravity. The movers and shakers of VI politics have been fencing in dramatic political warfare. The two polarities, or the two political parties, remain standing, but the NDP has witnessed a great scupper of a number of its most senior and seasoned members out the back door. Their exit is best described as “the last waltz on the Titanic.” It is essentially an internal coup.
The VIP, on the other hand, has remained virtually the same beast since the internal election that placed Andrew Fahie into the leadership position early last year.
Then, there is talk of a number of new parties appearing on the horizon. That horizon better be very close, or best these dreamers not consider forming a new political party. Just two new parties have made an appearance. However, if a general election is to be conducted in the first quarter of 2019, these organisations will have to get working swiftly very soon.
The next general election will be the first to be held following the devastation of the 2017 flooding and hurricanes that virtually destroyed the territory’s infrastructure. Residents will be looking for the party and political group that will best fix the VI.
Hundreds of residents require assistance. Many more hundreds are rebuilding. Insurance premiums have tripled. Much higher insurance premiums will impact the economy in ways unclear at present. At the very least, higher premiums squeeze Jack the Consumer’s pockets, and that is never a good thing for economic growth. And homeowners who can no longer afford up to $15,000 annual premiums may have to keep savings accounts with sufficient funds in case of Irma Two. That further puts a squeeze on consumer demand.
The territory’s infrastructure is recovering slowly, but there remains a lot of rebuilding to do.
Brexit and the VI
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom government is embroiled in the Brexit saga. There is no predicting the outcome of highly combustible events at Westminster and Whitehall. Will Brexit even take place?
And what happens to the VI financial services industry if Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn becomes prime minister? The man is an avowed socialist with a cause of ensuring the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes. Mr. Corbyn is a proponent for “coming down heavy” on offshore financial jurisdictions.
The VI economy remains anaemic. Had it not been for the financial sector, the economy would be in an even worse state. Then there are hindrances in the ability of the government to borrow the hundreds of millions of dollars required to simply jumpstart the economy and drive a stimulus that will pull the territory out of the economic hole caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
There has been no vision and strategic development plan offered to the public for fixing the economy. The VI requires at least $3-5 billion of social and economic investment over the next five years to get back to the pre-Irma condition.
The task of politicians before the general election will be to present solid proposals to suffering voters on a vision and strategic plan to lift the territory into the type of prosperity that is expected from a financial services, ecotourism and maritime economy that is well able to provide a high standard of living to its people, all else remaining equal.
It is impossible to predict what will take place at the next general election. VI politics does not follow the path of politics of countries elsewhere. In the developed world, with a long history of two-party governance, accurate sampling and solid demographic measures can project with great accuracy the outcome of a general election, despite the failure of polls in the 2016 United States presidential election.
Large families play a powerful role in VI politics. At the last general election, some of these families played an inordinate role in getting district leaders elected. There is no guarantee these families will vote similarly in 2019, or repeat their block voting pattern.
Then there is the matter of a profoundly changed demographic: the result of post 1980s heavy migration from sister Caribbean islands. How has migration changed voting patterns? A new first generation of Virgin Islanders has been born of migrant parents. Which political party benefits most from 20 years of mass migration and its effect on the territory’s demographic?
Most critical, voters must ask the hard questions, and demand the even tougher answers, on how Jack the Politician intends to fix the territory and return the VI to the path of security and prosperity and a better future for children and grandchildren post-Irma.
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