Contributing Author Dickson Igwe

A new political reality in the Virgin Islands

The first of two articles on a dramatically changed Virgin Islands power and political landscape

A political hurricane has just ravaged the Virgin Islands leaving a much changed landscape in its wake. Many people are still shocked and stunned: even though they will not admit it. The people of the British Virgin Islands have spoken, and the National Democratic Party will rule these magnificent Antilles for four years beginning November 7, 2011.

Another thing: Virgin Islanders are very sophisticated, aware, and savvy people, politically speaking. This is a country with a standard of democracy and politics that is world class. A tiny dot on the map that possesses a system of governance and democracy- albeit with its strong attachment to Britain’s Imperial history- that is second to none: a virtue Virgin Islanders should all be very proud of.

Add to this the lesson, never to take a single voter for granted in these islands, especially if you are a politician: or you may pay dearly at the polls! The electoral system in the country, according to one election observer who came in to observe Virgin Islands democracy in action is ‘’unique, and a privilege to observe.’’ And its task oriented and laborious, counting, displaying, and tallying, modus operandi is a model of transparency, accuracy, and effectiveness: a process perfectly tailored for a small community and democracy, such as this is. It should not be tampered with!

Another thing: anyone who underestimates the wisdom of the Virgin Islander and voter does so at their own peril. The BV Islander will not tolerate a level of politics that does not speak to his or her true concerns, essential needs, and personal agenda, and a very discerning voter will today send a swift message to any incumbent who does not meet the mark: whether it is the National Democratic Party, or the Virgin Islands Party. The Virgin Islands Party is finding this out, post November 7, 2011, and a powerful political organization will have to rebuild its infrastructure from bottom to top, if it has any intention of retaking power in 2015: and that is the simple truth of the matter.

As of November 7, 2011, both parties have experienced the swift wrath of the Virgin Islander as he or she steps into the polling booth to exercise a precious right thousands have fought and died for around the world. The right and ability to vote is a profound privilege millions of people living in tyrannies and authoritarian states can only dream of.

Today, a whole new and unpredictable phase for this country has begun, and these enchanting islands are in the hands of seven men and two women who will form the new Government, and, who will be watched very closely by four very seasoned and experienced politicians, and members of the Virgin Islands Party: Her Majesty’s Opposition. Unless, that is, one of those politicians decides to cross the political divide, and that has been known to happen in the past.

New Premier Dr Orlando Smith

But with 9 NDP members in the House of assembly, the opportunity for political chess play is very limited indeed, and the new Premier will have the tools to control the national political infrastructure and power process. And this he must do as the man in charge of the country for four years.

Dr. Orlando Smith is the new boss in town, we have a new ‘Super Sheriff,’ and he must stamp his authority on a  National Government that in the past has seen too many ‘mini premiers’ running around doing what they want, and when they want.

The name of the game is ‘cabinet government’ and ‘collective leadership,’ yes, but the Premier is ‘primus inter pares’ first among equals.  Be tough sir! That is what this country needs right now. It was the fabled Dr. Henry Kissinger who once said that ‘’ a leader does not deserve that name, unless he is prepared to stand alone at times.’’

That is the cost of leadership, Premier Orlando Smith. And this political observer knows that it was the quiet strength, thoughtful kindness, open minded magnanimity, and trustworthy qualities of the New Premier that got his party elected, apart from the anger voters directed at the VIP’s perceived arrogance. Paradoxically, it is that same arrogance voters voted against, when they threw out the NDP in 2007, an arrogance that the VIP is accused of this November 2011.

 

Another thing is this: the British Virgin Islands is today clearly a two party democracy, and the country has been going in that direction for years, ever since the NDP, shortly after it was founded, became established as the main party in opposition to the VIP. That will not change any time soon, if anything, it will become even more so, and all aspiring politicians better take note.  An experienced politician asserted, while in conversation with this layman, that both political parties possess a base of support, and getting that base to the polls is critical in achieving election victory. That tells of a two party system in tote.

Just like the USA, where the two entrenched political parties, the Republicans and Democrats, hold executive power, and usually in alternate fashion, with the odd independent who tends to pop up at election time, but who loses in any case; the VIP and the NDP are today the two main crucibles in these Antilles from where the fight for wealth and power will increasingly begin and end. This Layman does not see that evolving political paradigm changing!

 

That is simply where the trajectory of power is headed in these 60 islands this late 2011.  And anyone who wishes to fight against this new reality will very soon discover to their political travesty, and loss of deposit, that the route to political power in these beautiful Virgin Islands runs through the NDP and the VIP. So decide which of the two parties promotes your values and interests best, then join and support, or stay out of the ring of power, and bawl like a baby, when you are completely and constantly ignored.

 

And the dividing of all politics, and the consequent power play into two camps is what the VI voter clearly desires, and that was shown by the glaring defeat of Independent Candidates at this November 7, 2011 election; independents who may have taken a greater proportion of the vote from the VIP than NDP.

Today, a whole new group of activists and party supporters will be looking to the NDP to do their bidding. But the new Party in power must be very careful about this: instead, it must build a big tent and look after the concerns and needs of all the people of the Territory, notwithstanding their party affiliation or political complexion. Welcome in all those VIP supporters who today are deeply disappointed, and you will be playing your cards very wisely indeed NDP! Yes, that will be the wise thing to do both politically and socially!

It is also clear that this victory was similar to the one the Virgin Islands Party won four years ago.  How? Because this was not necessarily a vote for the NDP; it was more a vote against the VIP.  And this was certainly the case at the last General Election. It was clear that on Election Day in 2007 that the people of the territory wanted to send the NDP a message.  Today, the shocking swing back to the NDP is a message to the VI Party that it must get its act together, or else it may spend a long time out in the wilderness.

This victory for the present incumbents is no love affair between the voter and the NDP! And voters will be watching the NDP’s every move over the next four years: better believe it!

Elections are always the incumbent’s to lose, and incumbents lose for a variety of reasons. But one of the greatest sins in politics is political hard headedness: a refusal to see things the way the average voter sees them, and instead, bulldozing policy through without consideration and feedback from the people of the country. This is the sin the VI Party committed during its four year stint in power. Bi-Water became a metaphor for a Virgin Islands Party with a leadership style, modus operandi and even Vivendi that was unaccountable, non responsive, secretive, and increasingly authoritarian. The voter subsequently had his revenge in the ballot box on November 7, 2011.

And that is why the November 8 Inaugural Speech by the New Premier which promised a listening ear, inclusion and accountability is so significant: these are three factors that are critical if the NDP is to succeed during the next four years: and the Virgin Islands Party will be doing itself a great favour adopting these virtues into its modus Vivendi in future. Keep the man on the street involved in your rule, and by that I mean every man and woman, or else!

To be continued.