The table is set for the Virgin Islands’ general election. Premier Dr. Orlando Smith dissolved the House of Assembly in January and set an election date for Monday. Last Thursday 41 candidates were nominated (25 in districts and 16 at large) to compete for 13 seats in the HOA. Now all that is left for the four parties and two independent candidates to do is close the deal in the few remaining hours before the election, and for the 14,939 registered voters to dash to the polls to cast their votes. It important to note that each voter can cast five votes: one for district representative and four for at-large representatives.
The VI is facing a headwind due to being decimated by the 2017 hurricanes, along with ongoing legislative squalls from both the United Kingdom and European Union. Specifically, hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the VI, causing approximately $3.6 billion in structural damages to utilities, infrastructure, facilities, housing and so on. Further, legislative actions by the UK and EU pose a serious threat to financial services, one of the territory’s two economic pillars. Consequently, the VI is at a crossroad and needs a new vision and a new captain with a steady, capable and experienced hand to lead the ship of state through the challenging and rough seas to a more promising and sustainable future.
To get a feel for where candidates are, let’s take a peek at what they have been doing on the trail.
Despite the short timeframe between the announcing of the election date and the actual date, candidates have been campaigning at a high-octane level to introduce themselves to voters and get in the public eye, to create a contrast with competitors, to connect with the grassroots, to inspire hope, to create an enduring vision, and to communicate a cause for their campaigns. They went house to house and knocked on doors, held meetings throughout the length and breadth of the territory, telephoned potential voters, communicated on social media, advertised on the radio, erected billboards, created videos and jingles, sponsored motorcades, participated in debates, listed their qualifications, and so on. Further, candidates made a plethora of promises on the trail. Time will tell if they were overpromising and under-delivering.
But few, if any, listed the cost of the promises, where the funding will come from, their priorities, or the opportunity cost of the promises. All the promises set high public expectations that may collide with the reality of having limited resources to address the needs.
As noted, there was a short timeframe between the announcing of the election date and the actual election date. The remedy for this is a fixed-term election date to level the playing field somewhat between government and opposition. Currently, the incumbent government sets the election date. A fixed-term system will add stability and certainty to the electoral process. It can be modeled after the UK’s system. In the UK, a general election is held the first Thursday of May every five years unless the government loses a vote of no confidence or two thirds of the House of Commons calls for an election, as occurred in 2017. Another item to add to the bucket list for the new government.
Too often in political campaigns, there is a disconnect between what candidates think the voters need and what the voters actually need. Campaigns are typically structured based on what a majority of voters need. Therefore, as the high-octane campaign was taking place, voters were listening, taking notes, assessing the various plans of actions, and comparing them to their needs so as to decide what plan of action would more likely improve the standard of living and quality of living while progressively advancing the territory. On Monday evening, it hopefully will be clear which candidates met the challenge and passed the test to lead the territory and manage its affairs for the next four years.
Closing the deal
Candidates should have started months, if not years, ago introducing themselves to voters to get in the public eye, campaigning, laying out their plans of action, marketing their cause for running for public office, engaging voters to ascertain what their needs are and making changes to campaign platforms. At this 11th hour, parties should be closing the deal with voters on what return on investment they will get in exchange for their votes. Moreover, a last-minute push also can be made to close the deal with the few undecided or unmotivated voters.
Voting is a right that many have sacrificed to attain, and it should be exercised. This is a crucial election, and I strongly encourage that every registered voter race to the polls to vote. Fellow Virgin Islanders, every vote counts, every vote matters, and every vote can make a difference. Take the time to vote on Monday.
Mr. Leonard is a Virgin Islander, a retired United States Navy lieutenant commander, and a freelance political analyst.