Get ready for elections

The Virgin Islands should start preparing now for next year’s elections, which may prove to be among the most important in the territory’s history.

The leaders elected in 2011 will face mounting challenges as the VI struggles to recover from a global economic downturn that has put a damper on a quarter century of unprecedented economic growth here.

Sound leadership will help pave the way to a sustainable future. Irresponsible bungling and self-interested partisanship, on the other hand, could bankrupt the fragile financial services and tourism industries and irreparably damage the natural environment.

In 2011, then, we hope that all eligible voters will exercise their right to cast a ballot.

But voting is not enough. Starting now, residents should educate themselves about the major issues facing the VI. Then, when elections arrive, they will be in a better position to vote responsibly, looking beyond personal interest to make choices that will benefit the entire territory in the long term.

We are encouraged to note that some residents have already taken steps that could help shape the public dialogue leading up to Election Day.

The People’s Progressive Movement, for example, launched last month, pledging to remain apolitical while advocating for positive change. If the non-profit organisation sticks to its stated mandate during the election season, it could make a real difference.

Other organisations and activists who hope to weigh in during the campaigns should take a page from the PPM’s book and start early. To understand the peril of waiting too long, one need only remember 2007. About a month before that year’s election, the BVI Christian Council launched an election campaign code of conduct. This was a sound idea, but it came so late that most candidates rightly declined to sign the detailed document.

Revisiting the code during this election cycle could be an excellent idea, but the move should come much earlier.

Meanwhile, political parties and independent candidates alike should commit now to engaging in intelligent, serious discussions about real issues in the coming months. In structured, public debates, they should tackle the critical challenges facing the territory and explain their proposed solutions for addressing them. Name-calling, mudslinging and misleading propaganda should be left behind.

To the same end, political parties should publish their manifestos early so that voters can study their positions on the issues.

The media should also do its part by reporting fairly and accurately on the debates while refusing to exacerbate reckless campaigning tactics with irresponsible journalism.

Key issues that we believe merit a prominent place in next year’s campaigns are wide-ranging: the economy; government spending; the environment; development; tourism; financial services; capital projects; education; social services; the possible addition of new seats to the House of Assembly; and transparency legislation, among others.

If residents insist that candidates take a clear stand on such issues, we believe the 2011 elections will strengthen this democracy at a critical time in its history.