British Virgin Islanders electing new government

ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, CMC – An estimated 16,000 voters in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) are casting ballots to elect a new government that will control the 13-member House of Assembly.

Polling stations opened at 6:00 am local time and will close 12 hours later.

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections said 42 candidates had been nominated to contest the election.

Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley is leading the ruling Virgin Islands Party (VIP) that has nominated 13 candidates, while the Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM), and the National Democratic Party (NDP) are both fielding nine candidates. There are 10 independent candidates.

Wheatley, 42 is seeking his first term as the territory’s elected leader. He had last year taken over the leaders of the government after premier Andrew Fahie was arrested in Miami by US police on drug and money laundering charges. The VIP controlled eight of the 13 seats in the last Parliament.

BVI elects legislature on a territorial level. The House of Assembly has 15 members, 13 members elected for a four year term, nine of them in single-seat constituencies and four at large, one ex-officio member and one speaker chosen from outside the council.

The four at large seats were introduced under some pressure from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the mid-1990s. The rationale behind their introduction was that there was a risk that constituency seats can become too closely tied to a particular local figure, and that if a certain number of local figures join the same political party, then the voters have no real choice in selection of their government.

Under the proposals any person in the Territory could stand as an at-large candidate, and each voter would have four at-large votes in addition to their constituency vote. The four at large candidates who received the highest total number of votes would be elected to the Legislative Council.

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections has reported that a total of 1,436 ballots were cast on advance polling day on April 20.

It said that all ballots will be secured to be included in the final count on polling day.

“The Office of the Supervisor of Elections is committed to providing with integrity, general direction and supervision over the registration of voters, the administrative conduct of free and fair elections in the Virgin Islands, and to impart efficient, reliable and courteous service to the General Public,” it added.

A statement from the Office of the Governor said that an eight-member team of international election observers will be monitoring the polls.

It said that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region (CPA BIMR) mission consists of a range of international observers, including from the Gambia, Gibraltar and Anguilla and will be here until Wednesday.

“CPA BIMR has been invited by the Governor with approval of the Premier and Leader of the Opposition. This is the fourth election to which international observers were invited, with the first CPA BIMR Mission to BVI taking place in 2011,” the statement said.

It said the observers will assess the election against international standards, commitments and obligations as well as domestic laws.

As part of their assessment, observers will attend campaign events and meet key stakeholders, including electoral officials, candidates and voters to gain a better understanding of the electoral process and the political context of the election.

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