At least two political party leaders have expressed criticism of “gutter politics and mudslinging” during this campaign season. Both the PVIM Chairman Ronnie Skelton and the National Democratic Party Chairman Myron Walwyn have spoken out about the manner in which Whatsapp and social media are being used to allegedly disparage candidates.
During a PVIM political rally held on 10 February Hon. Skelton criticized messages that are reportedly being circulated about the various candidates. While addressing the matter he told the gathering that even though his opponents are mainly the target he does not agree.
“I do not agree with some of the cartoons that are being circulated that are degrading our people, although they are on the opposite side and we are fighting them for the position that we think we are rightfully due,” the PVIM Chair said.
Hon. Skelton further urged the persons responsible to desist from doing so. “I don’t think that we should continue along those lines and I want to say to whoever is listening that I don’t support that kind of behavior.”
While not being specific, Hon. Skelton said that he was also targeted by untrue political statements. “They seek to twist the truth to their own benefit. Now I understand that they are saying that I am a divisive person.”
He said that the people behind this type of activity are seeking to gain political office by any means necessary. “I want you to hear this, resident and voters of Long Bush because I know they’ve been in your homes saying it. There are some leaders who wish to be elected in this Territory by any means necessary. When I say by any means necessary, I mean by any means necessary.”
“They believe if they cause division between locals and non-locals it should guarantee them victory at the polls. Ladies and gentlemen this is foolishness and you need to tell them to get out of your homes. Leadership is about character, integrity, dignity, honesty, accountability and transparency. All my years in politics I have never come to you talking about the other candidate. I come to you and tell you what I intend to do if elected that’s what I do,” he added.
It appears that the majority of the negative social media and Whatsapp messages are NDP targeted, and as a result Chair of the NDP Hon. Walwyn has repeatedly called out these actions which he hinted were being orchestrated by a certain political party.
Hon. Walwyn decried the practice of sharing derogatory messages and image during an NDP rally held in Purcell Estate on 7 February. “Using memes on WhatsApp and other divisive tools to plant seeds of doubts and fear in the minds of you the good voters of the Virgin Islands… Many of them live in glass houses, they are so desperate that they have become obsessed with throwing stones. The downright unprecedented nastiness coming from our opponents is out of step with the tradition of BVI politics. It is also out of step with our character and values as a people,” he said.
While revisiting the issue during a political rally in Parham Town on 9 February Hon. Walwyn again decried the matter: “Some persons have said that I have been soft in responding to the nonsense which has been polluting our political space. I have said to them that we have hopes for a better way of politics and do not wish to join anyone in the practice of politics in the gutter. The gutter is not our home. It is not a place where we feel comfortable and it is not a place where you the good people of the Virgin Islands should feel comfortable either. The last time I checked the bottom of the gutter was green. My color is one of strength, determination and love. Our color is red and the gutter is not for me.”
VIP Complained First
The unsavory memes and social media posts are said to have commenced before the campaign season. In fact, Chairman of the Virgin Islands Party, Hon. Andrew Fahie said that he has been complaining about the situation for quite some time but no one cared because it did not affect them.
Hon. Fahie made the announcement during the last sitting of the House of Assembly held on 28 December. He described the occurrence as a smear campaign that was targeting legislators and said: “There seems to be a smear campaign going and members of the House names…They started with mine and nobody was watching when they started with mine, but now that they reach everybody else, everybody concerned now.”