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Low voter turnout and why residents lost hope

Low voter turnout and why residents lost hope

The Office of the Supervisor of Elections has confirmed that while some 16,130 residents were registered to vote in the April 24 election, only 9,275 exercised this right. Voter turnout was 57.5 percent. It’s lower than the last election held in 2019.
While many have been stating the likely reasons for the low voter turnout, political commentator Dickson Igwe said, among other things, the issues highlighted in the damning Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the arrest of former Premier Andrew Fahie were two of the major factors which bewildered residents and pushed them away from the polls.

“That lack of trust may have been there well before the start of the very public inquiry. The inquiry simply exacerbated that trust deficiency. It revealed the underbelly of the beast. Subsequent events including the arrest of the previous leader of the country on drug conspiracy charges did not help,” Igwe said in a recent article titled, Low Voter Morale in the Virgin Islands.

Lack of confidence in political system

While public commentator Benito Wheatley thinks one can never be sure of the exact reasons for the lower voter turnout, he does agree that a lack of confidence in the political system played a role in interest shown by the electorate.

“Those persons who did not vote lost confidence in the political system. They feel the political system does not work for them and see no point in voting,” Wheatley told BVI News. He also added that the behaviour of candidates on the campaign trail may have scarred some residents.

“Persons were turned off by the mudslinging that occurred during the election campaign [and] persons found they could not support the platform of any of the political parties and were not satisfied with the choice of candidates,” Wheatley stated.

While many stayed away, those who voted clearly found hope in the new candidates they elected to the House of Assembly: Dr Karl Dawson, Luce Hodge-Smith, Stacy ‘Buddha’ Mather, and Lorna Smith, who won as a National Democratic Party (NDP) candidate but hours later formed an alliance with the VIP to become Deputy Premier.

Although many see these new lawmakers as the hope of the BVI, some feel like the last-minute alliance of Lorna Smith and the VIP has served a fresh blow to the psyche of the people and will likely lead to further disenfranchisement within the community.

Igwe agrees with this assertion, stating that “anger remains as the outcry at a politician crossing the floor and enabling the Virgin Islands Party to form the government showed.”

As the debates and fallouts from the election continue, Igwe urged politicians to take the low voter turnout seriously by engaging people at the “grassroots” over the next four years.

He said any political entity that improves morale will see favourable results at the polls.

“The party and politician that causes low morale to improve will increase turnout in their favour. That will be a trump card in four years. That means engaging with voters at grassroots level daily over four years, and not just at election season,” Igwe stated.
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