When Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price was replaced as People’s United Party (PUP) Leader in 1996, he was around 76 years of age. At that point, of course, Mr. Price became PUP Leader Emeritus. He was a sitting member of the Belize House of Representatives in 1996, having been elected to the Pickstock seat in June of 1993, a seat he would win again in the August 1998 general election, and a seat he would give up in time for Godfrey Smith to win the seat for the PUP in the March 2003 general election.
When Rt. Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize and United Democratic Party (UDP) Leader, gives up leadership of the ruling UDP and leadership of the nation of Belize later this year or sometime next year, he will be around 66 years of age. Whether Mr. Barrow will give up the Queen’s Square seat he has won in eight consecutive general elections (since December of 1984) when he resigns as Prime Minister and UDP Leader, is not clear. Whether he does or does not will not be that important: as UDP Leader Emeritus he will be functionally more powerful than Mr. Price was when he became PUP Leader Emeritus in 1996. That is the point of this essay. Mr. Price was forced out in 1996: Mr. Barrow, on the contrary, will leave voluntarily in order to allow his Deputy Prime Minister/Deputy UDP Leader, Hon. Patrick Faber of the Collet constituency, to prepare the party for the 2020 general election under the Faber mantle.
Between 1954 and 1979, the PUP had won seven consecutive general elections, the last six under the leadership of Mr. Price, who replaced Leigh Richardson as PUP Leader in 1956. Until the UDP was formed in 1973, contested its first general election in 1974 and performed very well, it had been the case for two full decades in British Honduras/Belize that the PUP absolutely ran the domestic situation politically in this colony, which had become self-governing in 1964.
Because of the PUP’s history of dominance in our country’s modern, post-World War II political era, and perhaps because as late as the decade between 1998 and 2008 the PUP was a national power, and perhaps because the introduction of the 18-year-old vote in 1978 has increased the volatility of Belize’s electorate, the massive losing streak on which the PUP has embarked since they lost Cayo South to the UDP’s John Saldivar in a 2003 bye-election, is not treated with the gravitas it should be. Additionally, the PUP actually came within 60 or 70 votes of winning the March 2012 general election.
The resounding electoral triumphs of the Barrow UDP since then suggest that March 2012 was merely a hiccup for the UDP. So that, the PUP may not be well served if they assume the anticipated Barrow departure automatically means a return to national power for the blue.
Patrick Faber won the Collet seat in March of 2003 because of some arrogant, disrespectful decision making by the Said Musa PUP leadership. Some PUP voters reacted to their party’s disrespect by not voting for Remijio Montejo or actually voting for the youthful Faber. At the time, Collet may have been considered a PUP constituency, or, at worse, a tossup. Since getting his foot in the Collet door, however, Patrick, assisted by some changes in divisional boundaries, has made himself so powerful in Collet it has become a safe seat for him. Collet is safer for Patrick, for instance, than Freetown was for PUP Leader Francis Fonseca in 2012 and 2015.
With his seat assured, Patrick has a solid political foundation. In addition, he was always a personal favorite of the departing Mr. Barrow’s, until he uncharacteristically defied the UDP Leader’s instructions and challenged Orange Walk North’s Gaspar Vega for UDP leadership a few years ago. Soundly beaten, Mr. Faber apparently became properly penitent, and it is clear as we write that he will have the full support of Mr. Barrow as Leader Emeritus. And, as Leader Emeritus, Mr. Barrow will be much more influential and hands-on powerful than Mr. Price was after he became the PUP’s Leader Emeritus.
If the PUP continues with the kind of decision making which became their political brand after the March 2003 victory, we may be looking at a fourth consecutive UDP term and the continuation of the PUP losing streak. The reason we say this, apart from the fact that Faber has a safe seat, and apart from the fact that he will lead the UDP almost as a Barrow surrogate, is that Belize’s 8,867 square miles have become a place where the United States and the United Kingdom and Canada are insisting on control. All the indications are that Mr. Faber is completely acceptable to the regional/international big boys: Patrick knows how to follow instructions, the challenge to Gapi notwithstanding.
Even though PUP Leader, Hon. Johnny Briceño, is considered similarly safe/acceptable by the regional and international power structure and the corporations, the truth of the matter is that the UDP has become consolidated. Mr. Barrow has proven himself to be a spectacularly capable politician, and the morale of his party is extremely high. A Faber-led UDP, with Mr. Barrow still a mastermind presence, will be no pushover in 2020.
The political key to the UDP 14-year winning streak is Mr. Barrow’s having gained the unchallenged high ground where personal probity and integrity are concerned, to speak optically. During the glory days of PUP rule under Mr. Price, those glory days being before he returned to power as a shadow of himself in 1989, the key to the Belizean electorate’s faith in the PUP was Belizeans’ belief that Mr. Price was absolutely incorruptible and sought no personal benefits for himself. The matter of Mr. Barrow’s reputation is more complex, this being a third millennial era of incredibly convoluted and confusing legal and business transactions, but there is no question that in the minds of the Belizean voters, when offered the alternative of a return to Musa/Fonseca “growth economics,” they have tended to choose the Barrow option as the safer, more honest option.
When Right Honorable Said Musa gave up PUP Leadership in February of 2008, he would have been almost 64 years of age. It is clear that the Musa brain trust soon became convinced that he had given up the leadership too early, especially after Musa’s choice as his successor, Francis Fonseca, was defeated in a PUP leadership convention by Johnny Briceño in March of 2008. By the following year, Mr. Musa dedicated himself, primarily through the mechanism of the venomous National Perspective, to undermining Briceño’s leadership and forcing him out, whereupon he installed the aforementioned, preferred Francis as PUP Leader in November of 2011, by executive decree, so to speak.
Well, Francis led the PUP to many defeats, including losses in the 2012 and 2015 general elections. But, Mr. Musa is nothing if he is not determined. In fact, Mr. Musa is downright stubborn. When Francis, beaten, dejected, and tired, resigned PUP leadership in November of 2015 and a PUP leadership battle loomed between Mr. Briceño and Hon. Cordel Hyde of Lake Independence, Mr. Musa brought pressure on Francis to throw his name back into the leadership pot. Fonseca was again beaten by Briceño.
The upshot of all the neoliberal executive decreeing in the PUP is that they have lost the street credibility the originally PUP enjoyed. Theoretically and constitutionally, it should not be all that difficult for the PUP, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, to exploit the Barrow administration’s economic woes and manifest corruption, but something is wrong at Independence Hall. The Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) had to come to the rescue of embattled roots Belizeans last year. The BNTU had to do the PUP’s job. This is not as it should be.
Our thinking is that, all things being equal, 2020 is no guarantee for the PUP.
Power to the people.