“The Election Observer Mission believes that the Virgin Islands (UK) 2015 election was genuine, vibrant and competitive. The election met key international standards, providing the voters an opportunity to cast their votes in secret and express their will in a transparent, peaceful and orderly manner. We especially commend the voters on their enthusiasm and commitment to the democratic process, evident in the high voter turnout. We praise the dedication of the Supervisor of Elections, as well as the Election Officials who were professional in carrying out their functions meticulously and impartially. However, further improvements are needed to streamline the cumbersome voting and counting procedures as well as to address the deficiencies in the regulatory framework, particularly in relation to the registration of political parties and campaign financing.” So said Hon. Stephen Rodan SHK, Speaker of the House of Keys, Isle of Man Head of Mission – Commonwealth Parliamentary Association British Islands and Mediterranean Region, Virgin Islands (UK) 2015.
The Preliminary Report of the Observer Mission noted that “While the media is not regulated nor is there a media watchdog to ensure equal access and balanced coverage, there is a pluralistic media environment which provides access to a broad range of political opinion. Moreover, the media is widely considered to be able to work freely, without censorship, obstruction or interference. Most stakeholders reported an overall balance of media reporting of the campaign and parties’ and candidates’ activities in newspapers and on radio and television. Despite particular partisan bias of certain newspapers or radio stations, a general picture of reasonably balanced reporting emerged. However, with an increased use of social media (Facebook and Twitter) and a high level of blogging and commentating by individuals and party activists, the description of online coverage of the campaign was one of propaganda used to incite and fan the flames of the electorate.”
The Preliminary Report noted that: ” The election campaign was peaceful and vibrant and saw high levels of public engagement. Fundamental freedoms of assembly, expression and movement were respected, and Parties and candidates were able to campaign freely throughout the territory. The campaign was active and visible with a widespread presence of large billboards, posters, motorcades and radio jingles. Political parties and candidates held a series of festive rallies with speeches, video testimonials, music, horns, balloons and cheering from the crowds. They also relied on door-to-door campaigning and smaller meetings as a means to engage voters.
However, the majority of individuals the EOM met with described this campaign as the most negative they had ever witnessed. 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. The governing NDP promoted its record in office, and its campaign ‘Action Speaks Louder than Words’ aimed to maximise its progress on major infrastructure projects. The opposition VIP campaigned on ‘A Vision for Better Days’ with a focus on personal politics and questioning the NDP’s four years in office. Without a focus on specific issues or ideology, most speeches promised further development projects and addressing the increased cost of living. With a late release of party manifestos, most individuals described their lack of awareness and knowledge of the parties’ main pledges and policies or noted their similarities, when asked by the EOM. Furthermore, the legal framework lacks regulation on campaign financing, both for donations and spending. The EOM was told repeatedly that parties or candidates were receiving large donations from business entities, underlining the need for greater transparency in campaign finance.”