On June 23, 2016, 71.8% of eligible voters in the United Kingdom (UK — England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) voted in a referendum on whether to leave the European Union (EU), which is comprised of over two dozen countries in Europe. Some politicians in the UK had argued that they could do better if they weren’t confined by the rules of the EU, and they won a slim majority, 51.9% to 48.1%.
The people in England voted 53.4% to 46.6%, to leave the EU; people in Wales voted 52.5% to 47.5%, to leave the EU; people in Scotland voted 62% to 38% to stay with the EU; and people in Northern Ireland also voted to stay, 55.8% to 44.2%.
The decision to leave the EU, commonly called Brexit, was close, tough, and there have been casualties. One British prime minister, David Cameron, of the Conservative Party, who had supported staying with the EU, resigned from his post when the people voted in favour of Brexit, and his successor, Mrs. Theresa May, also of the Conservative Party, recently resigned because she couldn’t get the support of the British Parliament for her exit plan.
In the aftermath of the decision to exit the European Union, the popularity of the different political parties in the UK has changed quite a bit. There is turmoil in the British political landscape and a recent poll shows one of the smaller parties, the Liberal Democrats, ahead of the traditional juggernauts, the Conservatives and Labour.
A story by Zoya Sheftalovich at www.politico.eu, “Poll: Lib Dems would win UK election”, published on May 31, 2019, said a YouGovpoll done for the Times newspaper showed that “pro-Remain Liberal Democrats would win a U.K. general election if it were held now….”
“The Lib Dems would win 24 percent of the vote, closely followed by Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party on 22 percent, relegating the ruling Conservative Party and opposition Labour Party into tied third place with 19 percent of the vote each… YouGov researchers also noted that under the U.K.’s first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, the Lib Dems could be the most popular party yet still likely trail Labour and the Conservatives in terms of parliamentary seats,” stated the article.
Patrick Dunleavy and Chris Gilson, at blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy, described the FPTP system as primitive, and offered that the reason it has survived so long is “because it favours the top two parties, who pile up most votes in their ‘safe’ areas – Labour in inner cities and industrial regions, and the Tories (Conservatives) across the south-east and eastern England. It heavily discriminates against the Liberal Democrats and against other, smaller parties…
“In 2005 Labour secured a third term in government with less than 36 percent of the British voters backing them, that is, the positive endorsement of just 21 percent of British citizens.”
In Belize, the winning party usually gets a little more than 50% of the vote, but many people will tell you that third parties don’t get any support here because Belizeans have not reached the stage yet where they just rebel against the rigged nature at the polls.
We can recall one instance only where a third party candidate polled really well in a general election and that was 2003, in the Pickstock constituency. That happened, most people believe, because the UDP pulled a popular candidate, Kenny Morgan, and replaced him with an unpopular candidate, Diane Haylock. Wilfred Elrington, a UDP running as an independent in 2003, was able to pull away many disgruntled UDP voters.
In 2011, voters in the UK voted overwhelmingly against replacing the FPTP system with the Alternative Vote system (a hybrid of FPTP and PR (proportional representation)). BBC reported that their Electoral Commission recorded 6,152,607 voting “Yes to the Alternative Vote, while 13,013,123 voted No.” Quite likely, the major parties, to protect their pie, ganged up on the smaller ones.
On June 16, neighboring Guatemala will be voting for a new president, vice president, 158 seats in Congress, and 340 mayorships. One source says the politicians vying for the top spot want to talk family values, but the people want to talk about corruption.
Carin Zissis, the editor-in-chief of AS/COA Online, in the May 30, 2019 story, “LatAm in Focus: Who’s In and Who’s Out in Guatemala’s Presidential Race”, described a turbulent landscape, with candidates being removed from the race, one of them because of drug implications. In her story she reported that Marielos Chang, a professor at Francisco Marroquín University, has pointed out that it is not all about the presidential race. Chang, she said, noted that “some voters are focusing on legislative races.”
“What we’re seeing hopefully is that people are going to vote for one political party in the presidency and they’re going to vote for a different political party in the Congress in order to have those checks and balances,” she reported Chang as saying.
Political reformists in Belize have clamored for the FPTP system to be changed for something more “proportionate”, but that cry has fallen on deaf ears. Proponents of the FPTP voting system say that it produces strong governments, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact is that strong government is a bad thing when there are no checks in the system to ensure transparency and accountability. A democratically elected government in a system that has no checks is as farcical as a monkey parading in silk. It is a dictatorship.
The ruling parties wouldn’t hear about replacing the FPTP that guarantees the two big parties permanence in the House of Representatives, but they have responded to another call, to improve the Senate. In the 2008 general elections, the PUP gave in to a battered populace with a proposal for an elected Senate, and it was on the ballot, while the UDP proposed the 13th Senator, a model that would give non-government members of the Senate a one-vote majority.
The elected Senate won on the ballot, but the UDP won the election. The elected Senate died, and the 13th Senator would not come to life until 9 YEARS after the 2008 election, and when it did it was a warped, compromised version of what had been promised, functionally not what the people hoped it would be.
The only check in this new Senate is the additional one made out by the national treasury. There are now 13 sets of teeth, but 7 sets have their jaws locked on whatever the government wants; the balance still leans heavily in favor of the politicians in power. It is a failure.
We are not out of options. There is an arrow in our quiver, a card in our deck: the elected Senate. There has been the worry, in some quarters, that this one might have too much power, that it might take the teeth out of the House of Representatives, leaving only gums. That will depend on the quantity of power we give our elected Senate.
We have models to work with. Different models of an elected Senate have been developed and presented to the people of Belize and we should be able to settle on one that gives us the checks in the system that we need, to ensure that the House of Representatives is only about the people’s business.
As it stands presently, the elected Senate will not be on the ballot when the next general election is called. The third parties can’t do it, the UDP isn’t likely to do it, and the PUP appears to have fallen in love with the UDP’s toothless 13th Senator Senate. The situation is not without hope, however. It is not impossible that the PUP put the 13th Senator in their 2015 manifesto, and in their 2016 Good Governance – A Shared Responsibility party paper, just to force the UDP to keep their 2008 manifesto promise. The PUP could still put the elected Senate in their manifesto.
The UDP will be under a new leader when they contest the next general election and, after ruining the 13th Senator Senate, they might, under new leadership, try to distance themselves from that. A new leader just might see the political gain and the morality in doing the right thing, which is to promote the elected Senate to replace the dud that occupies the upper house.
Belize, we have a House of Representatives that is absolutely ruled by Cabinet (no backbenchers), and a 13th Senator Senate that marches to the drumbeat of Cabinet. It is our business to get our system fixed.