British Virgin Islands general election, 2015
The British Virgin Islands general election, 2015 was a general election held in the British Virgin Islands on 8 June 2015 to elect members to the House of Assembly. The result was a landslide victory for the incumbent National Democratic Party (NDP) over the opposition Virgin Islands Party (VIP). No minor parties or independent candidates won any seats. Unusually, every single incumbent candidate who stood in their original seat was victorious.
The supervisor of elections was Juliette Penn. Prior to polling day, the VIP had complained to Governor John Duncan of alleged irregularities relating to the conduct advance polling day. In a statement the supervisor of elections acknowledged irregularities, but indicated that they were of a minor and technical nature, and were swiftly rectified once noticed. The report of the international Election Observer Mission noted that the election "was peaceful and vibrant and saw high levels of public engagement."
Former Premier, Ralph T. O'Neal, had warned of the possibility of the Government calling a snap election. President of the opposition Virgin Islands Party, Carvin Malone, had predicted an election on 6 or 13 July 2015. Although it became common parlance to refer to the election as a "snap" election in local media, it is not entirely clear that it was. The ruling party announced candidates for an "upcoming election" over a month prior to dissolution of the House, and all parties claimed that they had anticipated the announcement.
Former Premier Ralph O'Neal stepped down and did not contest the 2015 election, the first general election he has not contested since 1967. He was the longest serving politician in the Territory's history, and had held the seat for Virgin Gorda and Anegada (now the 9th district, originally the 7th district) continuously since 1975.
Although political dynasties have not been a large feature of British Virgin Islands politics, the 2015 election witnessed descendants of each of the first three Chief Ministers of the Territory standing for office. Lavity Stoutt's son, Preston, ran in the first district as an independent candidate. Willard Wheatley's grandson, Natalio, ran at-large for the People's Empowerment Party, and Cyril Romney's daughter, JoAnne, ran in the fourth district for the Virgin Islands Party. However each of those candidates eventually lost their election bid by some distance.
The 2015 also saw the largest number of female candidates in the Territory's history. The NDP fielded three female candidates, the VIP fielded six, the PEP fielded one female candidate, and two of the declared independent candidates were female.
The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), led by Premier Orlando Smith, sought to defend its majority in the House. They were opposed by the opposition Virgin Islands Party (VIP), led by former Minister Julian Fraser. The NDP and the VIP each fielded a full slate of 13 candidates. Two minority parties also contested the election: the People's Empowerment Party (PEP), led by sitting member of the House, Alvin Christopher, which fielded 5 candidates; and the Progressive Coalition Movement (PCM) which fielded 3 candidates in total.
In addition, a number of independent candidates have declared an intention to stand, including three in the 9th District. The most notable of these was former Deputy Premier, Dancia Penn. Only one candidate had been elected in the British Virgin Islands in the past 20 years running as an independent (Alvin Christopher).
The election was noted for its highly negative tenor. A post-election report released afterwards by the Election Observer Mission to the Virgin Islands stated that voters described the 2015 campaign as the most negative they had ever witnessed. The report noted: "This consisted of personal attacks and accusations, criticism and allegations of past performance of opponents and inflammatory and defamatory rhetoric, rather than a positive discussion of the major political issues. With a proliferation of partisan politics, these stakeholders noted a heightened divisiveness of the campaign, both for society at-large and within families."
Even before the election had actually been called there were complaints about the nature of party political media advertisements, and allegations of using smear tactics. There were allegations in the press of use of drones to follow candidates and film their movements, and political parties were accused of abusing powers of patronage and acting like "gangs".
On the day upon which the House of Assembly was dissolved for the election, the opposition Virgin Islands Party circulated documents which they claimed meant that the Minister for Education Myron Walwyn should have been stripped of his seat for failing to disclose his interest in companies which secured Government contracts.
Very little campaigning focused on specific issues or ideology, and most candidates campaigned on a mixture of core competency and criticising past performance of opponents. Numerous candidates indulged in vague and unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against rivals. Most election speeches promised further development projects, and addressing the increasing cost of living was also a common theme. The VIP suggested potentially addressing cost of living through introducing price controls. Campaigns also produced fairly routine promises of political patronage, and pandering to xenophobia. At the same time, at least one politician spoke of the need for nationality laws to be reformed so that children born in the Territory would be Virgin Islanders with full equality.
The Government was criticised for signing a number of no-bid petty contracts with various local businesses in the last few days before the voting, although such practices are relatively commonplace in the British Virgin Islands.
The ruling National Democratic Party won in convincing fashion, and had secured victory early in the night solely on the basis of the district seats (results for the at-large seats take longer to count and normally only come in the next day). In the event, the NDP won all four at-large seats as well to complete a landslide victory, becoming the first party to win back-to-back elections in the British Virgin Islands since the Virgin Islands Party achieved the feat in the 1999 general election. The NDP's margin of victory (9 seats) and share of the total votes cast (60.2%) were both records for an election.
|National Democratic Party||27,070||60.2%||11|
|Virgin Islands Party||13,601||30.2%||2|
|People's Empowerment Party||1,786||4.0%||0|
|People's Coalition Movement||307||0.7%||0|
|Speaker and Attorney General||2|
|Total (turnout --% (est.))||44,990||100.0%||15|
|* Each voter has 5 votes; 1 district vote and 4 territorial "at-large" votes|
|Source: Deputy Governor's Office|
|Shaina M. Smith||NDP||277||27.8%|
Incumbent Andrew Fahie successfully defended his first district seat, his fifth successive general election victory. The first district seat has now been in VIP hands since the 1971 general election. Shania Smith and Preston Stoutt each lost their second consecutive attempt to be elected to the House of Assembly.
|Melvin Turnbull Jr.||NDP||419||61.8%|
Political newcomer Melvin "Mitch" Turnbull Jr. comfortably won the second district seat from a field that consisted of three candidates contesting their first election. Longtime second district representative, Alvin Christopher, elected to stand at-large.
Incumbent and VIP party leader Julian Fraser successfully defended his seat with a narrow victory over Kevin "OJ" Smith for the second consecutive election, and for Fraser's fifth consecutive general election victory.
Incumbent Mark Vanterpool successfully defended his seat, crushing political newcomer JoAnne "Roxie" Romney.
Incumbent Delores Christopher successfully defended her seat, comfortably defeating Zoe Walcott-McMillan (who lost her third consecutive election) and independent candidate Abdul Shabazz.
Incumbent Alvera Maduro-Caines won the sixth district seat, easily defeating former legislator Elvis "Juggy" Harrigan (who lost his second consecutive election), and newcomer Dion Jennings.
Incumbent and Deputy Premier Kedrick Pickering easily defended his seat in the seventh district against newcomer Oleanvine Pickering-Maynard.
Incumbent Marlon Penn successfully defended his seat in the eight district, crushing newcomer McLoyd Walters. Penn's 943 votes were a record for a district seat in a British Virgin Islands election.
Contesting his sixth general election (and fifth in the same district), Hubert O'Neal overcame a crowded field, and finally for the first time won the ninth district seat formerly occupied by the now-retired Ralph O'Neal for the preceding 40 years.
The NDP held on to all four of the at-large positions, comfortably holding off the challenge from the VIP and independent candidate Dancia Penn. Myron Walwyn's 5,777 votes in the at-large seats set a record for the highest number of votes for an at-large candidate, as did his 16.0% of the votes cast.
As leader of the party with the largest number of overall seats, Orlando Smith was appointed premier and invited to form a government under the Constitution. He announced an unchanged cabinet, stating "in order to finish the work that have we started, the ministerial architecture will remain in tact [sic], that is, Ministers will remain with their assigned portfolios."
Accordingly, the post-election cabinet will remain:
|Premier||Orlando Smith||Minister of Finance and Tourism|
|Minister for Natural Resources and Labour
Minister for Health and Social Development
Minister for Communications and Works
Minister for Education and Culture
|Attorney General||Baba Aziz||Ex-officio, non-voting|
|Cabinet Secretary||Sandra Ward|
Subsequent to the election, Julian Fraser as leader of the VIP congratulated his opponents and pledged to work with the elected Government. Dr Smith echoed those sentiments on behalf of the NDP. Natalio Wheatley gave a statement on behalf of the PEP pledging to continue the work of the party despite its failure at the polls. Leading independent candidate and former Deputy Premier Dancia Penn also made a statement expressing her disappointment about how bitter and divisive the campaign was, and expressing a hope the politicians would show "more unity, fairness, respect and dignity and that they can build a happier and more harmonious country together."
Shortly after the election fresh rumours began to circulate about Dr Smith's possible retirement, and once against Dr Smith spoke to scotch the rumours. Dr Smith turned 71 a couple of months after the election.
After the election political commentators also weighed in on possible reasons for the scale of the VIP's defeat. Suggested reasons included:
- The formation of the PEP by Alvin Christopher, which split off part the VIP's traditional political base, and took away crucial votes.
- The fracture of the party with Dancia Penn (who at one time was Deputy Premier and was rumoured to be Ralph O'Neal's favoured successor to the party leadership until her defeat in the 2011 general election).
- Lack of veteran leadership. In addition to losing Alvin Christopher and Dancia Penn, Omar Hodge decided not to run again. As a result, an astonishing eight of the VIP's thirteen candidates were contesting their first ever election.
- The personal unpopularity of newly appointed party leader, Julian Fraser.
- Poor candidate selection. Irene Penn-O'Neal was facing gun possession charges whilst running as a candidate (she was subsequently acquitted). Charmaine Rosan Bunbury had been interdicted as Magistrate. Rajah Smith was put up as a token candidate in the second district where he has no real ties, and garnered a mere 22 votes.
After the election the embarrassment for the VIP continued when the two elected candidates (Julian Fraser and Andrew Fahie) were unable to agree which of them should be appointed Leader of the Opposition (each candidate preferring themselves). Governor John Duncan indicated that if no consensus was reached by 20 July 2015 then he would take appropriate advice and choose himself from the available candidates. No consensus was reached, and so the Governor appointed Fraser as opposition leader.
- "BREAKING NEWS: June 8 Is General Elections Date". 6 May 2015.
- "BREAKING NEWS: NDP Will Remain In Gov't". BVI Platinum. 8 June 2015.
- "NDP secures landslide victory at the polls (official)". 9 June 2015.
- Amongst sitting members of the House, only Alvin Christopher, who elected to stand at-large rather than defend his 2nd District seat, lost.
- "Court action likely – VIP complains about poll". BVI News. 7 June 2015.
- "False alarm? Election concern rectified". BVI News. 6 June 2015.
- "Most Negative Campaign - Report". BVI Platinum. 11 June 2015.
- "Update: It's Offical - House Of Assembly To Be Dissolved Ahead Of General Elections". BVI Platinum. 30 April 2015.
- "Snap election likely, Opposition Leader warns while announcing he will quit". BVI News. 27 May 2014.
- "VIP Predicts July Elections; Names Potential Candidates". BVI Platinum. 2 April 2015.
'I have done some calculations myself. I am going to be bold enough to narrow it down to let's say July 6 or 13,' Mr. Malone disclosed during the VIP's Let's Talk radio programme last evening, April 1.
- "Opinion: Why snap election never benefits the people". BVI News. 5 May 2015. "Premier Defends Snap Elections". BVI Platinum. 8 May 2015.
- "NDP Takes First Jump; New Candidates Confirmed Following High Level Meeting". BVI Platinum. 30 March 2015.
- "Early election has caused chaos – Rymer". BVI News. 10 May 2015.
'The election of 2015 came as no surprise to most of us,' [Alvin] Christopher further said, adding that even Opposition Leader Ralph T. O'Neal, last year, announced his retirement and suggested that early election was likely.
- "42 candidates nominated; record number of women". BVI News. 22 May 2015.
- "BREAKING NEWS: Dancia Penn contesting election". BVI News. 20 May 2015.>
- "Evil & Spiteful! Fraser Unleashes On NDP". BVI Platinum. 23 April 2015."Fraser blasts NDP for claims in commercial". BVI News. 23 April 2015.
- "BREAKING NEWS: Drone Trails Gov't Ministers As 'Dirty Campaign' Takes Flight; Raises National Security, Privacy Questions". BVI Platinum. 27 April 2015.
- "Political parties acting like gangs – DeCastro". BVI News. 1 May 2015.
- "BREAKING NEWS: Walwyn Asked To Step Down As Catering Companies Get Gov't Payment". BVI Platinum. 1 May 2015.
- Article 67(3) of the Constitution states: "An elected member of the House of Assembly shall also vacate his or her seat in the House ... (e) if he or she becomes a party to any contract with the Government of the Virgin Islands for or on account of the public service or if any firm in which he or she is a partner, or any company of which he or she is a director or manager, becomes a party to any such contract, or if he or she becomes a partner in a firm, or a director or manager of a company, which is a party to any such contract." But this is subject to a power of the House to exempt a member where he discloses to the House the nature of such contract and his or her interest or the interest of any such firm or company in it as soon as reasonably practicable.
- "NDP Gone With The Whole Cookie Jar - Fahie; They Made Thousands From You". BVI Platinum. 21 May 2015.
- "VIP searching for proof of corruption since 1999?". BVI News. 23 May 2015.
- "I Will Fight For You - OJ Smith; Says Harbour Development Will Happen Under Him". BVI Platinum. 16 May 2015.
- "Anegadians Promised Help To Own Ferry Service; New Visitor's Centre For Setting Point". BVI Platinum. 15 May 2015.
- "Juggy Proposes State-Of-The-Art Marina & Water Sports Park For Baughers Bay; To Generate $7M Annually". BVI Platinum. 21 May 2015.
- "VIP promises multi-million dollar pipe project". BVI News. 1 June 2015.
- "Everybody is concerned about cost of living – OJ". BVI News. 16 May 2015.
- "We Should Not Have To Wait On Rockefellers Of The World - Walwyn As NDP Launches At-Large Candidates; Says Cost Of Living Will be Addressed". BVI Platinum. 17 May 2015.
- "Time For Laws On Price Control - Walcott-McMillan". BVI Platinum. 17 May 2015.
- "Land distribution to be 'year-round' activity". BVI News. 13 May 2015.
- "Several new promises, including 8% salary hike". BVI News. 4 June 2015.
- "This government 'never sold' land to foreigners". BVI News. 15 May 2015.
- "We Are Not Jealous Of Your Rich White Friends - Rosan-Bunbury Shares Blows". BVI Platinum. 26 May 2015.
- Virgin Islands News Online report published on 17 May 2015 concerning an election event speech by Myron Walwyn: "Children ‘born here’ not of VI parents must be embraced"
- "Days Before Election - Gov't Gives Out Contracts To Anegadians". BVI Platinum. 28 May 2015.
- "Two offices relocated". BVI News. 1 June 2015.
- Because each ballot contains four at-large votes, the percentages are necessarily lower than for district seats. A rough equivalent figure for a district seat would be 16.0 x 4 = 64.0%.
- "Update: NDP Retains Gov't In Landslide Victory; Walwyn Gets Highest At-Large Votes In History". BVI Platinum. 9 June 2015.
- "All VI Celebrate: Minister Of State Roles For Non-Cabinet Members - Premier At Swearing-In". BVI Platinum. 10 June 2015.
- "Virgin Islands Government - Cabinet Members". Government of the Virgin Islands. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- "Unity - Message From VIP Candidates". BVI Platinum. 10 June 2015.
- "Let's Forget & Forgive The Rancour - Dr. Smith". BVI Platinum. 10 June 2015.
- "This is not the time to rest on our laurels- PEP". BVI News. 12 June 2015.
- "Election Campaign Was Highly Divisive - Dancia Penn". BVI Platinum. 11 June 2015.
- "I Have News For Them - Dr. Smith On Retirement". BVI Platinum. 11 June 2015.
- "VIP told to get rid of Fraser as chairman". BVI News. 11 June 2015.
- "VIP Could Face Dilemma; Former Legislator On Gun Charges Named As Potential Candidate". BVI Platinum. 7 April 2015..
- "Former lawmaker, others freed of gun charges". BVI News. 24 July 2015.
- "Privy Council to hear former magistrate's claim". BVI Beacon. 1 May 2014.
- "EDITORIAL — Opposition should unite and choose a leader soon". BVI Beacon. 8 July 2015.
- "Fraser Appointed Opposition Leader". BVI Platinum. 21 July 2015.