Beautiful Virgin Islands

Friday, Dec 09, 2022

Time to review At-Large system - Premier

Time to review At-Large system - Premier

Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has conceded that it may be time to review the Territorial At-Large system in place for candidates seeking elected political office and suggested this may be the best time to do so.

There are four At-Large seats contested at the polls in addition to the nine district constituencies which are ultimately represented in the territory’s legislature, the House of Assembly (HOA).

But the introduction of these At-Large seats, which was reportedly done in a controversial manner in 1995 by the United Kingdom’s (UK) Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was staunchly resisted by the then-Chief Minister H Lavity Stoutt.

Meanwhile, Premier Wheatley expressed that there have been challenges with the At-Large system over the years.

“I do think it’s time to have it reviewed and I think actually this constitutional review commission would be a good opportunity to be able to review that particular system,” the Premier said.

He added: “I do think there have been challenges in the past, which have been expressed directly from persons in those positions. I remember Vernon Malone for instance famously made a contribution about the system. And I know under the National Democratic Party, they tended to make At-Large persons ministers, which of course that’s a debate in itself.”

According to Dr Wheatley, based on what has happened over successive governments, he felt it was important to be able to have a review of that system and the specific effectiveness of the system.

“I think with our reforms, it really brings into focus what really should be the roles of elected members and members in the House of Assembly,” the Premier stated.

Premier Wheatley said he felt legislators have to focus a lot more on policies and debates in the House of Assembly over legislation as well as on giving a voice to the voiceless. The Premier said he felt giving that voice was something At-Large members have been able to do effectively.

“This is the only place I know of that this system exists between At-Large and different constituencies,” the Premier said. “Of course, United States has something similar with their senate system and their congress system etcetera, but this is a very unique situation in the Westminster model and I think it’s, you know, it’s important to see how it’s going, how it’s working and so I would support that.”

Background to the At-Large system

According to the government’s website, 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 then be elected to the HOA.

Currently, the four persons serving as At-Large representatives are Education Minister Sharie de Castro, Carvin Malone, Shereen Flax-Charles and Neville Smith.


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