Elections in the British Virgin Islands

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politics and government of
the British Virgin Islands

Elections in the British Virgin Islands are conducted to elect members to the House of Assembly (formerly named the Legislative Council). In the British Virgin Islands elections are not conducted in relation to appointments to either the Executive or Judicial branches of Government, and there are no other publicly elected posts in the British Virgin Islands. Most elections are conducted as general elections, which under the Constitution are required to be held every four years,[1] or as by-elections when a member of the House of Assembly dies or steps down. Since the re-introduction of democracy into the British Virgin Islands in 1950 there have been fifteen general elections, and three recorded by-elections. The next general election is scheduled to be held in 2015.

The British Virgin Islands elects on territorial level to a unicameral legislature. The House of Assembly has a total of 15 members, 13 of whom are members elected by the public to serve a four-year term, plus two ex-officio non-voting members: the Attorney General and the Speaker of the House. Of the 13 elected members, nine are elected to represent Territorial district seats, and four are elected on a Territory-wide "at-large" basis.

Since 1999 the British Virgin Islands effectively has had a two-party system, which means that there are two dominant political parties. Prior to 1999 the political arena has been much more varied, with sometimes three or even four political parties seriously contesting elections. In the period 1990 to 1995 there was really no other serious political parties providing an alternative to the Virgin Islands Party in the Territory. Historically independent candidates have fared well in British Virgin Islands; in the 1979 general election independent candidates won a greater share of the vote (38.0%) than any political party, and won 4 out of the 9 available seats. However, 1999 general election marked the first time that no independent candidate was elected, and since that date only one person standing as an independent candidate has been elected (Alvin Christopher in 2003 general election).

Elections are held at least every four years. The last election was held on 8 June 2015. The system of elections is Westminster-style. The parties nominate candidates on a nomination day, then the election is held several weeks later. Government is formed by the leader best able to command a majority in the House.

Qualifications[edit]

Qualifications for standing for election[edit]

Qualifications to be elected as a member of the House of Assembly are now regulated by article 65 of the Constitution. Broadly speaking this requires that the candidate must be a second generation Belonger, and must either be domiciled in the British Virgin Islands or have completed a period of residence.

In order to be elected as a member of the House, a person must either be a Virgin Islander (as defined) over the age of 21, and otherwise qualified to vote in the Territory. For these purposes a "Virgin Islander" means a Belonger who is either:[2]

  1. a person who was born in the British Virgin Islands to a mother or father who was a British Overseas Territories Citizen (by birth or descent);
  2. a person who was born in the British Virgin Islands to a mother or father who was also a Belonger (by birth or descent); or
  3. a person who was born outside of the British Virgin Islands to a mother or father who was also a Belonger (by birth or descent) provided that one of his or grandparents also belonged to the British Virgin Islands by birth.

A person may also be qualified to stand for election if they were qualified to stand in the 2007 general election under the previous Constitution, regardless of whether or not they have previously stood for election.[3]

However, a person is disqualified from being elected (regardless of where they are born) if they are not domiciled in the British Virgin Islands unless:

  1. in the case of a person who has never been domiciled in the British Virgin Islands, they have resided in the Territory for at least 5 years immediately before the date of their nomination for election; or
  2. in the case of a person who was formerly domiciled in the British Virgin Islands, but have lived outside of the Territory for at least 10 years, they have resided in the Territory for at least 3 years immediately before the date of their nomination for election.

Disqualifications from standing for election[edit]

A person is disqualified from being elected as a member of the House if:[4]

  1. they hold any public office;
  2. they are declared bankrupt in any country;
  3. they are adjudged to be of unsound mind in any country;
  4. a sentence of death has been imposed upon them, or if they have served a term of imprisonment of at least 12 months within the previous five years;
  5. they are disqualified or suspended under the laws of the British Virgin Islands relating to elections offences; or
  6. they are a party to, or a partner in a firm, or director or manager of company, with any contract with the Government for a public service (unless they have published a notice in the Gazette or other British Virgin Islands newspaper disclosing the nature of the contract and their interest).

Qualifications for voting[edit]

Qualifications to be registered as a voter in the British Virgin Islands are now regulated by article 68 of the Constitution. A person is qualified to vote if they are a Belonger aged 18 or older, and are either resident in the British Virgin Islands or are domiciled in the British Virgin Islands and resident in the United States Virgin Islands.

However a person is disqualified from voting if:

  1. they are adjudged to be of unsound mind under British Virgin Islands law;
  2. a sentence of death has been imposed upon them, or if they are serving a term of imprisonment of at least 12 months; or
  3. they are disqualified or suspended under the laws of the British Virgin Islands relating to elections offences.

Political parties[edit]

Political parties in the British Virgin Islands are not generally formed on an ideological basis, and do not normally affiliate themselves with a political school of thought. Political parties do not identify themselves are being on the political right or the political left. Similarly parties do not normally identify themselves with mainstream political movement such as green politics. Although there are no religious parties in the British Virgin Islands, all parties typically identify themselves with Christianity. Most parties campaign on a concepts with close affinity to nationalism, and core competency in relation to administration of Government. Because of the high numbers of economic migrants in the British Virgin Islands, much political campaigning has a xenophobic tinge to it,[5] and often focuses on political patronage for BVIslanders.[6]

Politicians often develop great loyalty from members of their constituencies. Possibly linked to the lack of party ideology, politicians often "cross the floor" to another political party without any discernible affect on their popularity, and a number of leading political figures in the Territory have done this multiple times.

Active parties[edit]

There are presently three active political parties in the British Virgin Islands.

  1. The present ruling party is the National Democratic Party (presently in its third term in power), led by Premier Orlando Smith.
  2. The present main opposition party Virgin Islands Party (which is presently in opposition, but has held power on six occasions), led by Julian Fraser.
  3. The newly formed People's Empowerment Party (which has never held power), led by Alvin Christopher.

Defunct parties[edit]

There are a number of former political parties in the British Virgin Islands, but only four have ever succeeded in having a candidate elected to the legislature:

  1. The United Party (originally called the BVI United Party), which won general election victories in 1967, 1975 and 1983. Defunct since approximately 2005 by-election.
  2. VI Democratic Party, which won the 1971 general election (together with Willard Wheatley (Ind)). Contested each general election from 1967 to 1979 except for 1975. Defunct since 1979.
  3. People's Own Party. Only contested the 1967 general election, winning one seat (Isaac Fonseca) in a seven-seat legislature. Defunct since at least 1971.
  4. Independent People's Movement. Put forward two candidates in the 1990 general election; one was elected (Omar Hodge). No other electoral appearances. Defunct shortly after formation.

Electoral issues[edit]

Elections in the British Virgin Islands are rarely conducted on an ideological basis, or even in relation to specific local political issues. Instead, voters are generally asked to choose between two primary parties (and a host of independent candidates) and vote on the basis of a combination of:

  1. party loyalty
  2. competence to govern
  3. political patronage

Most election campaigns are usually conducted on the basis of each candidate who is affiliated with a party pointing to their own successes in government, and criticising the performance of the other party. Each party will typically try to present itself as the party who fights for the "common man", and accuse the other party of financial mismanagement or corruption, as well as alleging that they only act in the best interests of limited pool of well connected wealthy persons. Independent candidates will typically argue that neither party is competent or trustworthy, and that unaffiliated politicians should be elected.

British Virgin Islands politics have become highly polarised since the mid-1990s. Since the 1999 general election, no party has won consecutive terms in office. Prior to the 1990s independent candidates were a common feature of legislatures in the British Virgin Islands, but more recently politics have become party dominated, and independent candidates and candidates for minority parties are rarely successful.

Latest elections[edit]

e • d Summary of the 8 June 2015 Legislative assembly election results
Parties Votes* %age Seats
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
Independents 2,226 4.9% 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

Past elections[edit]

General elections 1950 - 1963[edit]

Prior to 1967 elections were held on a non-party basis. Relatively few records survive in relation to these early elections, and it is possible that they were conducted by straw poll or show of hands rather than by ballot.

In 1950 four legislators were elected to the Legislative Council on a Territory-wide basis. The inaugural legislative council included four elected members: Isaac Glanville Fonseca, Howard R. Penn MBE, Carlton L.E. deCastro and John Charles Brudenell-Bruce MBE.

In 1953 the number of legislators was increased to six, and elections were conducted on the basis of territorial constituencies (with Road Town electing two legislators).

British Virgin Islands general elections (1950 to 1963)[7]
Year Candidates elected Constituency
1950[8] Isaac G. Fonseca At-large
Howard R. Penn At-large
Carlton L.E. deCastro At-large
John Charles Brudenell-Bruce At-large
1954 Wilfred W. Smith 1st District
Howard R. Penn 2nd District
Isaac G. Fonseca
Edwin H. Leonard* 3rd District
Leslie Franklyn Malone 4th District
Theodolph Faulkner 5th District
1957[9] H. Lavity Stoutt 1st District
Howard R. Penn 2nd District
Isaac G. Fonseca
Ivan Dawson 3rd District
Leslie F. Malone 4th District
Waldo E. O'Neal 5th District
1960 H. Lavity Stoutt 1st District
Howard R. Penn 2nd District
Isaac G. Fonseca
Ivan Dawson 3rd District
Leslie F. Malone 4th District
Theodolph H. Faulkner 5th District
1963 H. Lavity Stoutt 1st District
Isaac G. Fonseca 2nd District
Arnando Scatliffe
Ivan Dawson 3rd District
Terrance B. Lettsome 4th District
Q. William Osborne 5th District
* Term was completed John Charles Brudenell-Bruce (1955-1957)

General elections 1967 to date[edit]

In 1967 Ministerial government was introduced into the British Virgin Islands, and candidates organised themselves into political parties. The results of the party contested general elections were as follows:

British Virgin Islands general elections (1967 to date)[10]
Year Party Seats Won Total Chief Minister / Premier Winning Party
District At-large*
1967 BVI United Party 4 N/A 4 H. Lavity Stoutt BVI United Party
VI Democratic Party 2 N/A 2
People's Own Party 1 N/A 1
Total seats: 7 0 7
1971 VI Democratic Party 3 N/A 3 Willard Wheatley VI Democratic Party
Coalition
Virgin Islands Party 2 N/A 2
BVI United Party 1 N/A 1
Independents 1 N/A 1
Total seats: 7 0 7
1975 Virgin Islands Party 3 N/A 3 Willard Wheatley
(2nd time)
BVI United Party
Coalition
(2nd Term)
BVI United Party 2 N/A 2
Virgin Islands Progressive Party 0 N/A 0
Independents 1 N/A 1
Undeclared (Oliver Cills in District 3)† 1 N/A 1
Total seats: 7 0 7
1979 Virgin Islands Party 4 N/A 4 H. Lavity Stoutt
(2nd time)
Virgin Islands Party
BVI United Party 0 N/A 0
VI Democratic Party 0 N/A 0
Virgin Islands National Movement 0 N/A 0
Independents 3 N/A 3
Undeclared (Oliver Cills in District 3; Willard Wheatley in District 8)† 2 N/A 2
Total seats: 9 0 9
1983 BVI United Party 4 N/A 4 Cyril Romney BVI United Party
Coalition
(3rd Term)
Virgin Islands Party 4 N/A 4
Independents 1 N/A 1
Total seats: 9 0 9
1986 Virgin Islands Party 5 N/A 5 Lavity Stoutt
(3rd time)
Virgin Islands Party
(2nd Term)
BVI United Party 2 N/A 2
People's Party 0 N/A 0
Independents 2 N/A 2
Total seats: 9 0 9
1990 Virgin Islands Party 6 N/A 6 Lavity Stoutt
(4th time)
Virgin Islands Party
(3rd Term)
Independent People's Movement 1 N/A 1
BVI United Party 0 N/A 0
Progressive People's Party 0 N/A 0
Independents 2 N/A 2
Total seats: 9 0 9
1995 Virgin Islands Party 4 2 6 Lavity Stoutt‡
(5th time)
Ralph T. O'Neal
Virgin Islands Party
(4th Term)
BVI United Party 1 1 2
Concerned Citizen's Movement 2 0 2
Independents 2 1 3
Total seats: 9 4 13
1999 Virgin Islands Party 5 2 7 Ralph T. O'Neal
(2nd time)
Virgin Islands Party
(5th Term)
National Democratic Party 3 2 5
Concerned Citizen's Movement 1 0 1
BVI United Party 0 0 0
Independents 0 0 0
Total seats: 9 4 13
2003 National Democratic Party 4 4 8 D. Orlando Smith National Democratic Party
Virgin Islands Party 5 0 5
Independents 0 0 0
Total seats: 9 4 13
2007 Virgin Islands Party 7 3 10 Ralph T. O'Neal
(3rd time)
Virgin Islands Party
(6th Term)
National Democratic Party 1 1 2
Independents 1 0 1
Total seats: 9 4 13
2011 National Democratic Party 5 4 9 D. Orlando Smith
(2nd time)
National Democratic Party
(2nd Term)
Virgin Islands Party 4 0 4
People's Patriotic Alliance 0 0 0
Independents 0 0 0
Total seats: 9 4 13
2015 National Democratic Party 7 4 11 D. Orlando Smith
(3rd time)
National Democratic Party
(3rd Term)
Virgin Islands Party 2 0 2
People's Empowerment Party 0 0 0
People's Coalition Movement 0 0 0
Independents 0 0 0
Total seats: 9 4 13
* Territorial at-large seats were introduced in 1995.
† Unopposed candidates did not have to declare party affiliations. Oliver Cills is recorded as a member of the VI Democratic Party from 1971-1979, but the VI Democratic Party did not contest the 1975 election.
‡ Died in office.

By-elections[edit]

There have been three recorded by-elections in the British Virgin Islands to date: the first in 1977 following the death of Austin Henley (VIDP - 2nd District), the second in 1995 following the death of Lavity Stoutt (VIP - 1st District), and the third in 2005 following the death of Paul Wattley (NDP - At-large). In each case except the first the party which had won the seat originally held the seat at the by-election.

British Virgin Islands by-elections
Year Reason Results[11] Constituency
Candidate Party Votes
1977 Death of A. Austin Henley (VIDP) Prince McDonald Stoutt Virgin Islands Party Unknown 2nd District
1995 Death of Lavity Stoutt (VIP) Angel Smith Virgin Islands Party 415 1st District
Irene Penn-O'Neal Independent 128
Monroe M. Penn Independent 4
2005 Death of Paul Wattley (NDP) Elmore Stoutt National Democratic Party 2,570 At-large
Vernon Elroy Malone Virgin Islands Party 2,167
Conrad Maduro BVI United Party 144
Richard Coutney deCastro Independent 19

Electoral milestones and feats[edit]

Electoral social milestones
Milestone Particulars Date
First female candidate Millicent Mercer 1971
First female legislator Ethlyn Eugenie Smith* 1995
Eileene Parsons
First female Premier None.
First racial minority candidate John Charles Brudenell-Bruce (white) 1950
First racial minority legislator John Charles Brudenell-Bruce (white) 1950[12]
First racial minority Chief Minister Cyril Romney (mixed race) 1983
First openly gay candidate None.
First openly gay legislator None.
First openly gay Premier None.
* Also first female Minister of Government.
Party electoral feats
Milestone Party Result Particulars
Most general elections contested Virgin Islands Party 12 1971 - 2015
Most general elections won Virgin Islands Party 6 1979, 1986, 1990, 1995, 1999, 2007
Most consecutive general elections won Virgin Islands Party 4 1986, 1990, 1995, 1999
Highest percentage of the vote (election won) National Democratic Party 60.2% 2015
Highest number of votes (election won) National Democratic Party 27,070 votes 2015
Lowest percentage of the vote (election won) Virgin Islands Party 27.8% 1979
Lowest number of the votes (election won) Virgin Islands Party 733 votes 1979
Largest majority National Democratic Party +9 2015
Individual electoral feats
Milestone Politician (District) Result Particulars
Most general elections contested H. Lavity Stoutt (1st) 11* 1957 - 1995
Ralph T. O'Neal (7th / 9th) 1975 - 2011
Most general elections won H. Lavity Stoutt (1st) 11 1957 - 1995
Most consecutive general elections won H. Lavity Stoutt (1st) 11 1957 - 1995
Length of time in Legislature Ralph T. O'Neal (7th / 9th) 39 years, 280 days 19752015
Highest percentage of the vote (district seat) H. Lavity Stoutt (1st) 85.8% 1990
Highest total votes (district seat) Marlon Penn (8th) 943 votes 2015
Highest percentage of the vote (At-large seat) Myron Walwyn 16.0% 2015
Highest total votes (At-large seat) Myron Walwyn 5,777 votes 2015
Lowest total votes (district seat) - winner Conrad Maduro (2nd) 92 votes 1986
Lowest total votes (district seat) - loser Rueben Wheatley (7th) 2 votes 1975
Smallest margin of victory Austin Henley (2nd) 1 vote 1975
Conrad Maduro (2nd) 1986
* Conrad Maduro has contested 10 general elections, plus one by-election (2005).

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Technically the House of Assembly can only sit for four years before it must be dissolved. However, there is invariably a period of time after a general election before the House first sits, and a period of time after the House is dissolved before the elections, and so in practice the maximum length of time between elections could be around 4 years and 3 months.
  2. ^ Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, article 65(2).
  3. ^ Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, article 65(1)(a). Those provisions are generally more relaxed than under the 2007 Constitution, but only persons who were resident in the British Virgin Islands on the date of the 2007 election benefit. This is part of the wider legal principle recognised in the British Virgin Islands that once a person has held a public law right, it should not be removed from them.
  4. ^ Virgin Islands Constitution Order 2007, article 66(1).
  5. ^ "New party cautions foreign investors, says it will not recognize any water right". BVI News. 31 March 2014. 
  6. ^ "If outsiders can get land, our people should also get many acres – O’Neal". BVI News. 15 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "BVI election and information results 1950–2011" (PDF). BVI Deputy Governor's Office. pp. 64–69. 
  8. ^ The first Legislative Council also had four appointed members (Olva Georges, Benjamin Romney, Dr W.T. Joseph and A.T. Franklin (A.T. Franklin was replaced by Norwell Harrigan later in 1950. Norwell Harrigan was replaced by Arthur Caines in 1951. Arthur Caines was replaced by McWelling Todman QC in 1952. ("BVI election and information results 1950–2011" (PDF). BVI Deputy Governor's Office. p. 195. )
  9. ^ Particulars of the individual seats are not available for the 1957 general election. It possible to ascertain the list of members elected from the history of members appointed ("BVI election and information results 1950–2011" (PDF). BVI Deputy Governor's Office. pp. 47–63. ), but not their seats. However it is reasonable to infer the representatives for the district seats on the basis that elected candidates most likely held the seats which they held in elections before and/or after the 1957 election. Waldo O'Neal is assumed to have been elected in the 5th District by process of elimination.
  10. ^ "BVI election and information results 1950–2011" (PDF). BVI Deputy Governor's Office. pp. 11–13. 
  11. ^ "BVI election and information results 1950–2011" (PDF). BVI Deputy Governor's Office. pp. 120, 144. 
  12. ^ Post 1950. Only white landowners had been allowed to stand for election in the colonial legislative councils in the British Virgin Islands.