The Virgin Islands Party’s candidates for the coming election pose after an internal party vote on Sunday. VIP President Sharia de Castro, Chairman Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, Deputy Chairman Kye Rymer, and Vice President Zoe Walcott host a press conference following the vote. (Images: VIP FACEBOOK PAGE)

The 52-year-old Virgin Islands Party set the stage this week for its bid to continue leading the government, becoming the first major party to roll out its candidate line-up ahead of the general election due by May 12.

The announcement followed an internal VIP vote on Sunday evening, when Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley was tipped to lead the party into the election after fighting off a challenge from at-large representative Carvin Malone.

Dr. Wheatley and other VIP officials — including the first female duo to serve as the party’s president and vice president — subsequently held a press conference and announced 10 of 13 VIP candidates.

Dr. Wheatley also said on Sunday that an election date is being determined, and he plans to announce it “in the very near future.”

Though the VIP was the first party to officially launch its slate of candidates, a few other hopefuls have announced their intent to run either independently or with another party.

But with an election no more than three months away, campaigning is far behind its usual schedule — an apparent result of the political turmoil that followed the arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie last April and the release of the Commission of Inquiry report the next day.

First time at the helm

Days after Mr. Fahie’s arrest, Dr. Wheatley was sworn in to head the new National Unity Government, and he subsequently helped broker an agreement with the United Kingdom government to avoid UK direct rule by enacting good-governance measures recommended by the COI.

However, this will be his first time leading the VIP in a general election.

Dr. Wheatley — who was first elected to office in 2019 under Mr. Fahie’s VIP banner — acknowledged on Sunday that the government has been functioning with a multi-party coalition since last year, and he said he appreciates members’ collaborative efforts “to avoid crisis.”

“But of course, the Virgin Islands Party is presenting a whole team of persons who can be relied on to do what has to be done to protect the interests of the people of the Virgin Islands, including ensuring that our Constitution is not suspended and that we respect the rule of law, we have transparency, accountability, good governance — and, number one, we deliver progress,” he said on Sunday.

He added that the coalition government “has served its purpose” to establish stability in the territory ahead of the elections.

VIP vote

Speaking of the VIP’s internal vote, the premier said he was pleased with party members’ representation and thankful for a “decisive” vote from the delegates.

The party also made a change in its executive leadership, selecting two women to fill the roles of president and vice president for the first time in its history.

Sharia de Castro — the twin sister of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Sharie de Castro — is the VIP’s new president.

“We have a significant representation of women in the [VIP] Congress, as well as young people,” the president said during the Sunday press conference. “I think the Virgin Islands Party has done an excellent job of making sure that our leadership team is inclusive, it is dynamic, and it is youthful. I am excited to help chart the way forward.”

Meanwhile, Zoe Walcott was elected to be the party’s vice president.

Ms. Walcott — who ran unsuccessfully as a VIP candidate in the 2007, 2011 and 2015 elections — took up the role of business development manager at Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park in 2019.

Vying for leadership

Mr. Malone also threw his hat in the ring to lead the VIP party as chairman, but he lost to Dr. Wheatley.

Mr. Malone previously won his first bid for a House of Assembly seat in the 2019 election, and under Mr. Fahie’s administration he served as health and social development minister. After Mr. Fahie was arrested in Florida and Dr. Wheatley was appointed premier, however, Mr. Malone crossed the aisle to the opposition in June, explaining that he disagreed with the approach to implementing governance changes recommended in the COI report.

Those differences didn’t deter Mr. Malone from crossing the aisle again last week, three days before the internal VIP election.

During last Thursday’s HOA meeting, Speaker of the House Corine George-Massicote read his letter announcing he was leaving the opposition to re-join the government as a backbencher.

After losing his bid to lead the party on Monday, Mr. Malone offered his congratulations to Dr. Wheatley on social media, calling the VIP candidate election “open and transparent.”

“There are difficult days ahead, and a fully united Virgin Islands community is required to protect and defend the successes of our forebears and to fulfil the territory’s aspirations for strong political, economic, environmental and social institutions in support of the journey to self-determination,” Mr. Malone posted on Facebook.

Dr. Wheatley said Sunday that Mr. Malone “put up a very formidable challenge,” and he reiterated his respect for his colleague’s work.

“But in the end, of course, I believe Congress wanted to ensure that we go into the general elections as a united body, and I think that message was clearly sent,” he said.

The candidates

The slate of VIP district candidates includes a mix of new and familiar faces.

Seeking the District One seat formerly held by Mr. Fahie — who resigned in November — is former H. Lavity Stoutt Community College President Dr. Karl Dawson.

Luce Hodge-Smith is running for the District Four seat currently held by government backbencher and former opposition member Mark Vanterpool, who said in September 2021 that he did not plan to seek re-election. During the 2019 election, Mr. Vanterpool was elected the Fourth District representative with the National Democratic Party, but he subsequently announced plans to resign before changing his mind again and remaining in the seat.

Ms. Hodge-Smith lost the 2019 district election by 57 votes and was slated to run with the VIP in an anticipated by-election if Mr. Vanterpool had indeed resigned.

For the Eighth District seat, the VIP selected businessman Allen Wheatley, who has also run for office before. Prior to the 2011 election, Mr. Wheatley said he would lead a slate of candidates under his new Party of the People banner. In the end, however, he was the party’s only candidate, and he lost the District Seven seat.

As the VIP’s Eighth District candidate for the coming election, Mr. Wheatley is expected to face off with current Health and Social Development Minister Marlon Penn, a senior NDP member who handed in his opposition-leader hat and crossed the aisle in June to join the cross-party government.

Returning candidates

Also on the VIP slate are Deputy Premier Kye Rymer, who is running to again represent District Five; Junior Minister for Tourism Alvera Maduro-Caines — a former NDP member who crossed the aisle to join Mr. Fahie’s administration in January 2020 — in District Six; and government backbencher Vincent Wheatley in District Nine.

Mr. Rymer also holds a new position this year, becoming the first VIP deputy chairman, a position not previously prescribed in the party’s Constitution, according to Dr. Wheatley.

At-large VIP candidates include three incumbents: Deputy Speaker Neville Smith, Mr. Malone, and Sharie de Castro. Not listed among the returning VIP candidates was Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles, the party’s fourth at-large incumbent.

“Unfortunately, Honourable Shereen Flax-Charles did not complete her paperwork properly,” Dr. Wheatley said during the Sunday press conference, adding, “It did not satisfy the conditions of the Virgin Islands Party Constitution, and so that will still have to be done.”

Attempts to reach Ms. Flax-Charles — who Dr. Wheatley said could not attend the press conference Sunday because of an “emergency” — were not successful.

Dr. Wheatley also noted in the press conference that he wanted to run as a district representative rather than at large because his District Seven community has several pending improvement projects that still need to be addressed, including sewerage systems and roadworks.

As of the Beacon’s deadline yesterday afternoon, the VIP had not announced its candidates for the Districts Two and Three seats — currently filled by Natural Resources and Labour Minister Mitch Turnbull and current Opposition Leader Julian Fraser, respectively.

Mr. Turnbull ran in 2019 as a member of the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement, though he had previously served as a backbencher with the NDP government.

Remaining seats

The VIP plans to announce candidates for the three remaining seats soon after ratifying them in a meeting of its Congress, Dr. Wheatley said.

The party also listed its executive members for 2023: Secretary Wandamae Malone; Assistant Secretary Kimberly Kuntz; Treasurer Latoya Freeman; Assistant Treasurer Terrence Gumbs; Public Relations Officer Stephon Mactavoius; and Assistant Public Relations Officer Delia Jno Baptiste.

Other parties

None of the other major political parties in the territory has publicly announced a list of candidates, and no party has published a manifesto.

With the election no more than three months away, however, some individuals outside the VIP have stepped forward to announce their candidacy.

Lesmore Smith personally announced that he is making a third bid for office as an at-large representative with the PVIM, according to JTV. Mr. Smith is president of the BVI Horse Owners Association.


Cindy Rosan, a talk show host and manager of Guavaberry Media, also announced her candidacy last March, saying that she planned to run as an independent at-large candidate.

Former Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering announced his intention to run last year, and the former NDP member said during a rally in September that he planned to run independently for an at-large seat. Dr. Pickering lost to Dr. Wheatley in the 2019 election.

Former Water and Sewerage Department Director Perline Scatliffe-Leonard also announced this week her intention to run independently for District Seven.