As the general election approaches, many candidates are sliding quickly into the gutter. 

They should collect themselves, reverse course and commit to a clean campaign that focuses on specific policies and ideas that will make the territory a better place. 

If they don’t, voters should insist. 

Too often, politics in the Virgin Islands boils down to name-calling, popularity contests and contract slinging. Unfortunately, this year is proving no exception. In recent weeks, the media also have come under attack in a troubling echo of Donald Trump’s United States, and some residents have alleged widespread bribery. 

Such practices are unacceptable, and they are particularly insidious right now. Currently, the field is chockful and the VI is heading toward a historic election that could see the end of the two-party system that has dominated politics here for 20 years. 

In many ways, this is a scary time of deep upheaval: Both major political parties have fractured after losing their longtime leaders, and bad feelings have festered on all sides. 

Instead of allowing such circumstances to distract them, the best candidates will rise above the fray. When insulted, they will turn the other cheek. When challenged, they will diplomatically defend what is right. When baited, they will eschew petty politics and return again and again to the arduous task of explaining a realistic vision for the future and how exactly they intend to achieve it.  

Perhaps most importantly, they will lead by example. For instance, we see no reason why a candidate who has called for campaign finance reform shouldn’t open their own campaign’s books to the public. 

The skills needed to gracefully navigate the current political terrain will be indispensable after the election, when the VI may well find itself with a coalition government for the first time in more than two decades. And even if one party wins a majority, the number of newcomers and the recent tumult within all major parties will mean an extended period of potentially painful adjustment. 

Politicians, then, need to constantly strive for the highest ideals. When they fall short, voters should demand better while doing all they can to pitch in and help foster a productive campaign. 

Many residents are on the right track already. We were particularly impressed with the young adults who organised a debate on Virgin Gorda this month, providing a forum for exactly the sort of structured discussion that is most useful at a time like this. Such community collaboration is heartening, and we hope to see more debates and other similar initiatives in the coming weeks. 

Meanwhile, all voters should pay close attention, working hard to understand the issues at play and putting aside self-interest in order to choose candidates whose policies and ideas will improve the entire VI. 

At a time when the territory is still struggling to recover from the 2017 hurricanes, there is simply no time for politics as usual. There is time only for working together diligently to set the territory on the right course for the future.