Over the last few years this newspaper has referred to the similarities between Belize’s two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). We mean no disrespect to these two institutions, because they are indigenous, authentic, national, and critical to Belize’s consciousness of itself as a nation-state.
The only other institutions in Belize which are national in scope are the churches, and the schools which they own and administrate. But, the churches are not indigenous or authentic to Belize: they are run from foreign headquarters. The churches are imported from outside of Belize. The UDP and the PUP were created and organized in the territory of Belize, by Belizeans.
Last year this newspaper made it clear to the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) of Belmopan and the People’s National Party (PNP) of Toledo that we did not consider them to be viable political institutions because they were not national in scope. For whatever reason(s), these two parties have been unable to make common cause with each other. Even if they did, they would certainly be lacking a Northern component, and probably other components as well. The VIP has made recent efforts to establish electoral credibility in San Pedro Ambergris Caye, but both the VIP and the PNP are yesterday’s news, unless they become integrated into a really national third party. (We have some experience in this matter. This newspaper was founded in 1969 by a cultural movement, which decided to become a political party in 1970 specifically because the newspaper’s publisher and editor, who were also officials of the cultural movement, were arrested and charged with a political crime. In retrospect, this was a big mistake, because the cultural movement had not pretended to be national and had not intended to contest elections.)
The history of third parties in Belize requires scholarly research. If we remember correctly, there were two third parties, if they are to be classified as such, which emerged in the 1970s and which easily and quickly interacted with major parties. These were the Corozal United Front (CUF) and the San Pedro United Movement (SPUM). But, the VIP and the PNP have both been stubborn in their self-centered autonomy over an extended period of time.
We have provided this backdrop in order to give you a reference point for the separate comments of the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd on Sunday morning on KREM’s Sunday Review and then on Wednesday in an interview with the press. On Sunday morning, Matura-Shepherd basically articulated the conditions under which she could be drafted for a leadership role in a third party, and on Wednesday, she made it clear, from our standpoint, that she considered a post in the Senate as beneath her abilities and ambitions at the moment.
Third millennium politics in Belize requires a lot of money, because the street campaigners, who are the foot soldiers of election campaigns, became professional some decades ago. Even though the street campaigners are loyalists of whichever political party for which they campaign, they now expect to be paid weekly salaries. This was not the case back in the 1950s and the 1960s, as far as we are aware. Belizeans campaigned from house to house back then because they believed passionately in the leaderships and programs of their respective political parties.
On Sunday morning, Audrey Matura-Shepherd was explaining the nature of the campaign financing she would consider acceptable for a draft. As things stand, the campaign financing of the UDP and the PUP is completely dominated by millionaires and multimillionaires. So that, from the get-go PUDP politics is now defined by the nature of the people who pay the pipers: the campaign financiers are oligarchs. They bet on a party’s victory, and then they expect to reap excessive benefits from that party’s installation as a national government. Our understanding of the campaign financing which Audrey considers acceptable, says that her philosophical approach to campaign financing would change modern Belizean politics from the beginning of her third party creation. This indicates to us that the VIP would have to fall into line with Matura-Shepherd, because they would not have valid reasons to remain separate from her. The PNP may be a bit more complicated.
One of the problems with Belizean politics is that you can not just organize a third party, even if it is adequately financed, and expect to compete with the big boys if you wait until a general election campaign actually begins. A very critical area of Belizean politics has to do with registrations of new voters and transfers of old ones. You have to get these tasks done in non-election years. In addition, there are certain constituencies, those where incumbents have been entrenched for decades, where you will not be able to find all the voters who are on the lists. Some of those you can’t find will be in the United States; some of them will be in Guatemala and Mexico; and some will have bogus addresses.
Belizean politics has reached new levels of “games” and deception. A third party would not be able to jump in last minute and have a real chance to win. It does appear that the UDP may call general elections within the next twelve months. It may already be too late for a third party, unless there is a re-registration. Now that would be an interesting scenario.