With a general election due in less than three months, the Virgin Islands is heading into an unusually short campaign season.
That’s a good thing. Prior to past elections, campaigning often got under way up to a year before polling day, and it was expensive and disappointing: One glitzy launch after another in an exhausting cycle of repetition that was high on spectacle and low on substance.
But the lead-up to the 2023 election has been anything but typical. The territory’s political landscape was thrown into disarray following the arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie last April and the release of the Commission of Inquiry report the next day.
Party leaders’ subsequent deal with the United Kingdom — a National Unity Government with ministers from three parties collaborating on a two-year reform agenda — appears to be the only thing that saved the territory from a period of direct UK rule.
The NUG also appears to be the reason that few candidates have started openly campaigning for the coming election. The two cross-party NUG ministers — each of whom leads a party of his own — can hardly campaign against Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley’s party while they are serving in his Cabinet.
But this show of harmony is about to come to an end. Under the Constitution, the HOA must be dissolved by March 12, and a general election must follow between 21 days and two months later.
Dr. Wheatley, who must call the general election, has promised an announcement very soon, and an internal vote this month showed that his VIP is preparing. Sporadic announcements and launches suggest that other parties and independents have been cranking up behind the scenes as well.
In the coming weeks, they must waste no time in clearly and efficiently communicating their platforms without the usual mudslinging and misdirection. Voters, meanwhile, must learn as much as they can about the candidates’ ideas and the issues at stake.
In the case of incumbents, of course, a past record can tell far more than any stump speech.
How, for instance, have they governed in the past? Have they put self-interest aside to labour for the best interest of the territory as a whole? In recent months, have they wholeheartedly supported the COI’s sound recommendations for reform, or have they waffled or opposed them? How have they handled the recent arrest of Mr. Fahie?
For new candidates, how have they served the community outside of office? What new skills would they bring to the table? How would they do things differently?
For all candidates, what is their specific vision for the way forward? Will they commit to continuing the COI reforms? After that, what’s next?
Additionally, what is their position on the ongoing constitutional review? On UK relations? How would they strengthen and diversify the twin economic pillars of financial services and tourism?
Would they push hard for transparency with concrete steps such as fully opening the legislators’ register of interests and introducing a freedom-of-information law?
The list goes on. But despite the unusually short campaign period, we have no doubt that there is sufficient time for any viable candidate to communicate substantive answers to such questions by campaigning quickly and effectively in the coming weeks. If they can’t, they have no business running for office in the first place.
Here’s hoping for a quick, clean campaign season focused on meaningful discussions about how to make the Virgin Islands a better place for everyone.