With a general election due early next year, there is a very real danger that a divisive campaign season could derail the ongoing governance reforms and trigger direct rule by the United Kingdom.
Political parties and independent candidates must not allow that to happen.
The territory, however, finds itself in a peculiar and delicate position. The National Unity Government — which is led by the Virgin Islands Party but also includes ministers from two other parties — was hastily assembled in May as part of efforts to avoid a temporary UK takeover after the arrest of then-premier Andrew Fahie and the release of the damning Commission of Inquiry report.
The cross-party administration has so far succeeded in heading off direct rule by agreeing with UK leaders on a roadmap for implementing badly needed reforms — and rightly hitting most of its early deadlines.
But when the NUG was established, leaders didn’t explain what would happen after the general election. Nearly three months later, they are still mostly silent on the topic.
Meanwhile, the current situation seems to have paralysed political parties, which normally would have announced candidates and launched campaign events across the territory by now.
Given recent events, their delay is not surprising. But with the election fast approaching, decisions urgently need to be taken.
In our view, one campaign issue looms largest: the ongoing reform process, which we believe will greatly benefit the territory if carried out as promised.
As parties and independent candidates launch their campaigns, they must clearly explain their position on the reform framework the NUG has been working hard to follow.
Do they agree with the framework? If not, where exactly do they disagree, and what specifically would they do differently? If any candidates criticise without providing an alternate path forward, voters should be very wary.
Secondly, how do parties propose to govern going forward? If they win control of the government, would they be willing to allow other party leaders to hold ministerial positions under a new “unity government” like the one currently in place? Or would they refuse to share power in this manner?
The UK should also weigh in publicly on this second question. Presumably, UK pressure was at least partly responsible for the creation of the current cross-party government. Will UK leaders require the next government to function similarly? Or will they relax this requirement and allow the winning party to take full control as it normally would?
Voters need answers to all these questions as soon as possible so that they can make informed choices when they head to the polls early next year.
Meanwhile, all election candidates should work together to ensure that the political season does not derail the ongoing reform process. This means eschewing the usual campaign mudslinging and focusing instead on constructive dialogue about the major issues facing the territory.
Campaign season is typically a time that highlights division. But keeping the reform process on track requires close collaboration.
Otherwise, the UK may implement direct rule, sending all VI politicians home for two years or more. Surely they do not relish the thought. We don’t either.
In recent weeks, the government has been making swift progress on important governance reforms, and we would like to see that process continue uninterrupted.