During a Friday press conference, Governor John Rankin stood by his recent claim that the Virgin Islands government could have requested early elections during the political turmoil last year following the release of the Commission of Inquiry report.
Mr. Rankin’s statement was made in response to Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley, who sharply criticised the governor on Feb. 20 for remarks Mr. Rankin made at a press conference six days earlier.
At the time, Mr. Rankin was responding to a question from Guavaberry Media Manager Cindy Rosan about the formation of the National Unity Government days after the Florida arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie on April 28.
“Was this really the only option available to the territory as a democracy as have been stated over and over by the now sitting unity government?” Ms. Rosan asked. “Was it an option that the territory could have indeed had new elections between May and June 2022 to decide on new persons to lead the territory along with the [United Kingdom]?”
The governor responded, “It would of course be open to the premier to seek a dissolution of the House of Assembly at an earlier stage; seek an earlier general election. But instead of that happening, a coalition government was formed between the different parties — the Government of National Unity — and I swore them in as I am obliged to do in line with my responsibilities under the Constitution.”
But Dr. Wheatley said on Feb. 20 that this response was “untrue,” denying that his VIP government had the option of calling an election.
In fact, he added, the UK insisted that the NUG agree not to call early elections, and he credited the NUG proposal with convincing the UK government not to immediately suspend the Constitution.
The formation of the NUG, he said, was welcomed by the UK and was seen as the best option to deliver the COI report recommendations through collective responsibility by all the major political parties.
On Friday, however, Mr. Rankin stuck to his story. “The fact is that the proposal for a Government of National Unity, explicitly based on not holding an immediate election, was one made by BVI political leaders,” he said.
He insisted that neither he nor the UK created the proposal. “At no point did the UK government insist that no elections be held,” he added. “That said, the reason given why the Government of National Unity proposal ruled out an immediate election was so that the process of reform and implementation could begin straightaway.”
He also said he discussed the issue with the UK government at the time, “and agreed that this seemed a reasonable position.”