British Virgin Islands General Election REport

By Nick Sundin, Contributor, nick.sundin@fotbot.org

The British Virgin Islands held elections on the 25th February 2019, to elect 13 seats to the legislative House of Assembly. A political upset took place, with the ruling social-democratic National Democratic Party losing eight of the eleven seats it won in 2015, and the more traditionalist Virgin Island Party winning eight seats giving it a majority of two. The leader of the NDP, Myron Walwyn, lost his at-large (territory-wide) seat, and subsequently chairman of the VIP, Andrew Fahie, became Premier of the BVI.

Results showed a large swing from the NDP to the VIP, with the four at-large seats all being lost by the NDP to the VIP. In the district seats some churn was seen, with incumbent independent assembly member Kedrick Pickering losing his 7th District seat to the VIP’s Natalio Wheatley, and Hubert O’Neal of the NDP losing his 9th District seat to Vincent Wheatley of the VIP.

The campaign was marked by controversy, with NDP leader Myron Walwyn facing accusations of ineligibility for office because of his parentage (his father hailing from Nevis and his mother from Antigua), which did not lead to his disqualification. VIP leader Andrew Fahie distanced the VIP from the controversy, further adding to the narrative of the NDP facing internal splits in the run up to the election.

The issues of governmental corruption and effectiveness dominated the campaing, as well as ongoing rebuilding from the effects of the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria. The VIP’s social media campaign was surrounded by the phrase “drain the swamp”, referring to the perceived corruption of the NDP’s adminstration around government wastage and siphoning of funds, and striking a cord with general discontent around the lack of progress on rebuilding after the hurricanes.

Rebuilding of tourism infrastructure and local businesses, and providing the necessary welfare support after the hurricanes were focuses of campaigning. The NDP pledged $10 million to support local businesses and also to increase scholarships for Virgin Islands students to include postgraduate studies, improving the islands’ human capital. The VIP, focussing on corruption, campaigned on introducing a law protecting whistleblowers in the public sector, and also a law mandating the purchase of local food before importing food. Smaller parties that won seats included the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement, campaigning on cutting taxes and legalising gambling, and the Progressives United, who promised to increase social welfare provision and introduce American black history to the curriculum.

The Cabinet of the BVI formed after the election consists of Andrew Fahie as Premier and Finance Minister, the governor Augustus Jaspert, four VIP members of the House of Assembly as ministers, the attorney general and the cabinet secretary. The elected politicians of the cabinet, Fahie aside, are politically inexperienced, posing a question of the ability to govern effectively in the face of the challenges of reconstruction and preventing corruption. These are certainly the most pressing issues at hand for the territory, and only time will tell whether the government’s goals have been achieved.