The newly sworn-in members of the Virgin Islands government pose for a photo during a ceremony at Government House. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

As results from the general election began to arrive on Monday night at the Multi-purpose Sports Complex, supporters lining the bleachers yelled and pumped their fists in the air every time their champion gained a lead.

But as the counting continued, the cheers slowed to a calculating quietness as more results came in and one fact became clear: No party was running away with the race.

“Lorna?” one viewer asked as the advance polling results were announced and National Democratic Party candidate Lorna Smith emerged as one of the at-large frontrunners.

“Lorna” indeed. The first-time candidate’s vote count would continue to rise throughout the night and ultimately propel her to the position of deputy premier in a government headed by Virgin Islands Party Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley.

But on Monday night, there was no such certainty.

When the final winners were announced about 10:30 p.m., the incumbent VIP won six of 13 seats in the House of Assembly, falling one shy of the majority needed to form a government.

The National Democratic Party and the Progressive VI Movement won three each, and the last seat went to Progressives United’s leader and sole candidate, Julian Fraser.

With no clear winner to head the government, the usual motorcades and raucous celebrations didn’t happen, and supporters filed out of the Multi-purpose Sports Complex into the night.

The candidates, meanwhile, retreated behind closed doors to try to form a coalition government. The talks continued until 4 a.m. and resumed at about 8 a.m.

Then, at about 2 p.m.Tuesday, Ms. Smith released a statement announcing that she had decided to form a coalition with Dr. Wheatley’s VIP to form a seven-member government.

The statement did not say whether she would remain a member of the NDP or take another course, but she later confirmed to the Beacon that she did not plan to join the VIP.

Swearing in

Governor John Rankin swore in the new government at the Government House on Tuesday evening.

Dr. Wheatley is once again heading the government, though this is the first time he has been elected as the party leader — a position he assumed following the arrest of then-VIP leader and Premier Andrew Fahie in Florida last April.

“I want to begin by thanking you for exercising your constitutional right to vote, which was incident-free and peaceful,” Dr. Wheatley said Monday night after his swearing in. “You painted a beautiful picture of democracy in this territory.”

Also during Tuesday’s ceremony, it was announced that Ms. Smith and VIP incumbents Kye Rymer (R-D5), Sharie de Castro (R-at large) and Vincent Wheatley (R-D9) will serve in ministerial roles, and newcomers Dr. Karl Dawson (R-D1) and Luce Hodge-Smith (R-D4) will be junior ministers.

Their portfolios, however, were not announced.

In the HOA, the VIP-led government will face an opposition made up of PVIM leader Ronnie Skelton (R-at large) and members Mitch Turnbull (R-D2) and Stacy “Buddha” Mather (R-at large); NDP leader Marlon Penn (R-D8) and member Myron Walwyn (R-D6); and PU leader Julian Fraser (R-D3).

As leader of the largest party in the opposition, Mr. Skelton is likely to assume the post of opposition leader.

Voter turnout

Also at the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, Dr. Wheatley noted that voter turnout was lower than previous elections.

All told, 8,941 of 15,606 eligible voters cast a ballot, for a turnout of 57.7 percent, according to the Office of the Supervisor of Elections.

In the previous election in February 2019, voter turnout was clocked at 64.6 percent with a total of 9,720 ballots cast, down from 67.5 percent in 2015.

“The government will have to work very hard in the months and years ahead to regain the confidence of those persons who chose not to participate this time around,” Dr. Wheatley said. “You have my word that we will do everything in our power to make you proud and to boost your confidence in the political system.”

Mr. Rankin congratulated the candidates as they were sworn in and commended Elections Supervisor Scherrie Griffin and her team for what he described as a well-organised election.

Smith’s switch

Ms. Smith’s election-night switch came as a surprise to many.

She is the wife of former Premier Dr. Orlando Smith — who led the NDP for more than 20 years before retiring in 2019 — and she had initially announced her intention to run as an independent candidate but later campaigned with the NDP and won one of the four at-large seats on Monday.

“The election campaign has lit a fire in me — one that will not easily die down; one that will make me question, scrutinise and probe every government policy to ensure it achieves the best for you,” she said in a statement, adding, “However, there is much to do if we are to achieve that.”

Ms. Smith will be the territory’s second female deputy premier, following Dancia Penn, who held the post from 2007 to 2011.

She is also one of three women to win a seat in the HOA on Monday, tying the record set in the 2019 election.

No independent candidates won any seats.

Polling night

Monday night began in a typical polling night fashion in the Multi-purpose Sports Complex, with various sections of the audience cheering for their favoured candidates each time Elections Supervisor ScherrieMs. Griffin stepped up to the podium to read aloud the results of each district’s polling.

While the audience closely watched the VIP lose most of the at-large positions, they let out some of the evening’s most raucous applause as NDP candidate Mr. Walwyn unseated VIP incumbent Alvera Maduro-Caines in District Six.

Supporters of Dr. Wheatley, though not great in number at the live results, stood and cheered when he fended off a challenge in District Seven from independent Perline Scatliffe.

The VIP secured the seats for open races in districts One and Four, but even with Mr. Rymer retaining District Five and Vincent Wheatley retaining District Nine, it wasn’t enough.

At around 10:30 p.m., Ms. Griffin read out the final results, and the auditorium exploded in cheers.

But with no clear winner to form a government, celebrations didn’t last long or turn into a winning-party motorcade as they typically do.

Instead, attendees rapidly dissipated, with many falling into deep discussions with their friends, calling others on the phone to excitedly divulge the outcome, claiming they needed a drink after the experience, or singing snippets of songs to themselves in celebration.

The results

Dr. Dawson won the First District and will replace former premier Mr. Fahie, who held the office for six terms before resigning his seat last November nearly seven months after his arrest in Florida. Dr. Dawson beat Sylvia Moses (PVIM) and independent Chad George.

In the Second, incumbent Mr. Turnbull (PVIM) kept his seat, leading independent Troy Christopher and Marieta Flax-Headley (VIP).

Incumbent Mr. Fraser (PU) will keep his seat in the Third District, winning over Aaron Parillon (NDP) and Kevin “OJ” Smith (VIP).

Ms. Hodge-Smith secured a seat for the VIP in the Fourth District and Sandy Harrigan-Underhill (NDP) came in a close second. Ian Smith (PVIM) took third, and independent Rosita Scatliffe came in last place.

Though Marvin Blyden (PVIM) raked in some votes in the Fifth District, Mr. Rymer will keep his seat. Meanwhile, Mr. Walwyn (NDP) is now the District Six representative after beating out the VIP incumbent, Ms. Maduro-Caines.

Dr. Wheatley took the Seventh District, winning over independent Perline Scatliffe-Leonard.

Incumbent NDP leader Mr. Penn won the Eighth District by a landslide, securing the seat over Allen Wheatley (VIP).

Vincent Wheatley (VIP) will once again serve the Ninth District after beating Coy Levons (NDP), Shereen Flax-Charles (PVIM) and independent Vernon Vanterpool.

Ms. de Castro was the only incumbent returned as an at-large candidate, and she is joined by Ms. Smith (NDP) and two PVIM members: Messrs. Mather and Skelton.