The Virgin Islands Party is asking voters to reflect on the party’s 40-year history in the territory when they go to the polls for the upcoming elections, and to re-elect the same government that, until it dissolved Tuesday, held 11 of 13 seats in the House of Assembly.

“This year we will celebrate 40 years of history rich with empowerment, rich with development and rich with letting the people of the British Virgin Islands partake in the development of the Virgin Islands,” said Carvin Malone in his remarks to begin the event. Mr. Malone said the theme of the party’s campaign this year is “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things.”

The launch, which lasted past 1 a.m., included video tributes to Premier Ralph O’Neal and to past VIP legislators, and speeches from the party’s four at-large candidates and five Cabinet ministers.

Both of the party’s non-incumbent candidates ran for the first time in the 2007 elections. This year, both will run for the same seats as in 2007: Ronnie Lettsome will contest the Seventh District, and Zoe Walcott-McMillan will run as one of the VIP’s four at-large candidates.

In 2007, Mr. Lettsome lost by 53 votes to Dr. Kedrick Pickering, who has represented the Seventh District since 1999. Ms. Walcott-McMillan came in 18 votes behind Dr. Orlando Smith, who now leads the opposition.

Clean campaigns

Mr. O’Neal said he wants to keep the campaigns as civil as possible, recalling elections from “years ago.”

“There was no calling down of the other person. There was no derogatory language or anything like that,” Mr. O’Neal said. “They said what they had to say, people went to the polls on voting day and did what they had to do, and everybody rejoiced.”

Mr. O’Neal added that negative language, whether spoken or “on the blogs,” is bad for “the good name of the territory.”

“We cannot allow politics to divide us in such a way that we end up cursing and calling bad names on the platform,” Mr. O’Neal said.

The premier dispelled rumours and an online report that he would announce the date of elections at the launch.

“They said that I would declare within the 24 hours when the next election would be,” Mr. O’Neal said. “I just smiled because I know what the Constitution says. It says the governor will discuss it with the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is not me alone.”

Mr. O’Neal then named his Cabinet ministers and added, “The governor will have to discuss it with us before the day is fixed. When he discusses it with us, I will not be afraid to announce it.”

By tradition, the governor calls an election after hearing a recommendation from the premier, but his office has not yet heard from Mr. O’Neal regarding an election date, said Governor’s Staff Officer Emma Dean Tuesday morning.

Looking back

In his remarks, Mr. O’Neal focused on the contributions of the VIP to the territory since it was founded in 1971.

“I would ask you to look back as far as you can and see how the VIP has brought this country to where it is,” the premier told the crowd.

Mr. O’Neal said he is particularly proud of the VIP’s contribution to the territory’s education system.

“Educating the people was our first priority,” he said.

He said before the VIP, only about 80 or 100 students received secondary education in the territory per year, but the VIP opened “the comprehensive school” and set up buses for students from around Tortola.

Mr. O’Neal also said the party went on to start the territory’s first college, which had “all kind of stumbling blocks” in its way.

“That community college is a shining example in the Caribbean,” Mr. O’Neal said, adding that the school is on its way to being accredited by an international organisation.

Residents can also thank the VIP for paved roads, “pipe water” and some social services, such as care for seniors, Mr. O’Neal said.

Recent contribution

More recently, the party has been instrumental in helping the VI weather a tough economy, said Irene Penn-O’Neal, an at-large candidate.

“We employed 14 key policy measures to cut expenditure,” Ms. Penn-O’Neal said.

Though “financial resources fell short of expectations,” she added, the party was able to re-open the Virgin Gorda Airport, resurface the roads to North Sound and Cane Garden Bay, and “bring the Peebles Hospital project to near completion.”

A few candidates referred to recent positive assessments of the territory by outsiders, including a claim by Colin Roberts from the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the VI has weathered the recent global economic turmoil better than other Caribbean overseas territories. Ms. McMillan pointed to a Financial Times report that named the VI as having the Caribbean’s best quality of life.

Communications and Works Minister Julian Fraser said his party deserves credit for the territory’s improved phone service prices. He described days when residents would just look at their ringing telephones rather than answer them because they had to pay the cost of incoming calls.

“Those were the days of the past,” Mr. Fraser said. “After the Virgin Islands Party got into power in 2007, things have changed.” Mr. Fraser said that residents no longer have to pay for incoming calls, adding, “These are the good days. The days brought to you by the Virgin Islands Party.”

Mr. Fraser, who called himself the “Liberaliser,” went on to say the VIP “brought in a third” mobile phone carrier, which he described as “true liberalisation.” He added that he supports a proposition to make the VI, the USVI and Puerto Rico a roaming-free calling zone.

Future plans

Some candidates also spoke about the changes they would like to see in government policy.

“There are changes to be made in a number of areas,” said Vernon Malone, at-large representative, in a speech that focused largely on the former police commissioner’s pet topic: crime.

Mr. Malone said the territory needs to “develop our police force” if crime is to be reduced. He added that the government has a police shooting range for training in progress on Dead Chest Island.

He also wants the government to introduce scholarships to send three officers a year to a police college in the UK. He added that a police training academy should be established in the territory, to nods of agreement from candidates seated behind him.

“Training is essential to what we are going to achieve in the police force,” Mr. Malone said.

At-large representative Keith Flax said he advocates for an amendment to the Constitution, a document he said has been a “thorn in our flesh.”

“Our position in the grand scheme of things need to be defined,” Mr. Flax said of at-large representatives. He said he would have liked to get more done, but the constitutional lack of defined responsibilities for at-large representatives held him back.

Ms. McMillan said the VIP wants to see changes in education, too.

“This government is in the process of modifying Virgin Islands classrooms” to have Smart Boards installed, she said, before employing Education and Culture Minister Andrew Fahie’s oft-used phrase to describe the progress of schools “from good to great.”