Though the general election likely won’t be held until next summer, campaign season is already in the air, with politics increasingly driving public dialogue on the airwaves, social media and other forums.
In the coming months, prospective candidates should keep their campaigns clean and honest, eschewing mudslinging in order to focus on clearly communicating how exactly they would handle important matters such as the hurricane recovery; the United Kingdom’s demand for public company registers; economic diversification; education and other youth issues; good governance; the path to self-determination; rebuilding the tourism sector; and protecting the financial services industry, among many others.
Though voting day is not due until late next summer, it could come earlier if the government calls a snap election as it did in 2015. This timeline means that candidates who want a realistic chance of winning a seat in the House of Assembly should already be working tirelessly to prepare.
Contesting an election, after all, is not easy work. It is stressful, time-consuming and expensive.
This year, the playing field is volatile. Both the NDP and the Virgin Islands Party — which have dominated VI politics for nearly two decades under the two-party system that emerged in 1999 — have been experiencing major shakeups and internal friction that has bubbled onto the public stage in recent months.
For the first time in its 19-year existence, the NDP will have a new leader, Myron Walwyn, who was elected chairman on Saturday after Premier Dr. Orlando Smith announced plans to step down. Mr. Walwyn will be charged with unifying his colleagues for an election that will serve partly as a referendum on the NDP’s handling of the hurricane recovery and other issues during the first two-term tenure since 1999.
The VIP also has a relatively new leader, Andrew Fahie, who will be tasked with assembling a strong slate of candidates, apparently without the help of his only opposition colleague, Julian Fraser, who reportedly announced plans to launch a new party.
Both NDP and VIP will need to resolve their internal differences straightaway so that each can present a united front capable of leading the territory during one of the most uncertain periods in recent memory.
Given the challenges they face, the coming election could also present an opportunity for new parties or for independents, neither of which have managed to gain a foothold during recent elections. Any newcomers, however, will need to start now, or they are unlikely to stand a chance against the party machines.
Ultimately, we hope to see a robust list of candidates who have a reputation for integrity, community service and hard work even if they lack legislative experience. Hurricane Irma made many heroes: We hope that some of them will run for office.
Female candidates also would be particularly welcome. The HOA is among the last bastions of male dominance in a territory where women are increasingly outdistancing men in leadership roles in the public and private sectors alike.
Voters, meanwhile, should put aside personal interest and insist that candidates take a firm stand on major issues and clearly explain their plans for making the entire territory a better place.
The VI is struggling mightily to recover from Irma, to respond to the public-register pressure, and to otherwise progress in an unpredictable global landscape that is largely beyond its control, among many other challenges.
Voters have a responsibility to learn all they can about the issues and the candidates and to vote in a way that will help ensure sound leadership for the long term. They should start now if they haven’t already.
In any democracy, an election is an opportunity that should never be wasted.