Just over a month after he dismissed rumors that his administration could be moving towards holding an early general election, the British Virgin Islands’ Premier Dr. Natalio Wheatley is getting ready to announce the election date this week.
“We are not going to have early elections,” he had said in February.
The House of Assembly was dissolved last Friday paving the way for the general election that must be held within two months. General elections are constitutionally due by mid-May.
Natalio Wheatley became head of government after premier Andrew Fahie was detained in Miami in April last year by United States agents posing as cocaine traffickers from a Mexican drug cartel.
He said that his ruling Virgin Islands Party (VIP) is close to finalizing its slate of 13 candidates for the election.
“Some time ago we would have gone to our party Congress where we selected 10 individuals to move forward for this general election and we will have a Congress to ratify our remaining members. We should be having the Congress over the next few days,” he told the CARIB Update television program.
At least four political parties and several independents are expected to contest the elections, but Natalio Wheatley said he remains confident that the VIP would be returned to power.
“We have been able to steady the ship, we have improved our relationship with the United Kingdom and of course, we have been able to implement recommendations and the United Kingdom has expressed their pleasure of the progress even though there are areas we have to improve upon.
“But generally they are pleased with the progress and of course, people of the British Virgin Islands are pleased with the progressed made so far and correcting things in our governance,” he added.
Last year, the British government decided not to impose direct rule on the BVI, despite a report finding gross failures of governance in the territory.
The review had recommended the BVI’s constitution should be suspended and its government dissolved amid corruption concerns. But the foreign secretary will instead allow a new administration to implement reforms in the next two years.
The inquiry was commissioned in 2021 amid claims about corruption and misuse of taxpayers’ money. The sole Commissioner, British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom, in his report had described the state of governance in the BVI as “appallingly bad”.
Sir Gary had called for a two-year suspension of the BVI constitution, cessation of the elected ministerial government, and the imposition of direct rule by the UK. He also recommended reviews of the government’s welfare payments, the sale of public land, and law enforcement on the islands.
Residents of the BVI took to the streets outside the official residence of Governor John Rankin protesting the recommendations and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) government also condemned the move by London.
The sub-regional Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in its condemnation noted “the general feeling is that we don’t understand why the British in the 21st century, making decisions similar to what they had done years ago in other countries”.
In the last general elections held on 25 February 2019, for the 13 of the 15 seats in the House of Assembly, there were a total of 41 candidates nominated including 11 women.
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