Editorial — 14 February 2018
Branding, or spoiling?

History is encounter. The past comprises all the encounters – both simple and complex, peaceful and conflictual – that have brought people together. History, as a discipline, is thus the sum of all the narratives of those encounters. But that sum of narratives is untidy – replete with omissions, fabrications, and contradictions. Human memory is wildly unreliable, “wired to be warped.” As a result, a traditional narrative (as I call it throughout this book) tends to be privileged over others, an appealing tale to mask the unappetizing mess that is reality.

(- pg. 19, WHEN MONTEZUMA MET CORTES, by Matthew Restall, HarperCollins, 2018

In any political contest between an incumbent and a challenger, the entry of a second challenger into the fray will always tend to hurt the primary challenger. That is because the two challengers will end up splitting the anti-incumbent vote.

In the November 2015 general election, candidates of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP) significantly hurt candidates for the primary challenger, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), in at least three constituencies – Port Loyola, Pickstock, and Belize Rural Central.

With respect to the upcoming national municipal elections, the Leader of the BPP, which pulled less than 3 percent nationwide in the 2015 general election, has said that he personally had not been inclined to have his party compete in the March 7 national municipals, but there were officials of the party who felt it was important to participate in March for the purpose of “branding.”

 The fact of the matter is that the BPP has managed to raise some funding over the years, which was not the case with the UBAD Party, which participated in elections between 1971 and 1974. In a coalition with the Opposition National Independence Party for the December 1971 Belize City Council election, the UBAD Party with the NIP received almost 40 percent of the vote, while in October of 1974 a single UBAD Party candidate, Evan X Hyde in the Collet constituency, received 4.1 percent of the votes cast.

The BPP has never received as much as 4 percent of the vote, except in the case of their Phillip De La Fuente in Orange Walk Central in the 2015 general election. But De La Fuente had previously had been the Orange Walk Town Mayor representing the incumbent United Democratic Party (UDP), and since then he has returned to the UDP, for which he is in fact the Mayoral candidate for March 7 in Orange Walk Town. In 2015, De La Fuente received 6.6 percent of the votes in Orange Walk Central. It is reasonable to speculate that his votes may have been more personal De La Fuente votes than party votes of the BPP.

Individual, independent candidates have over the years since universal adult suffrage on very few occasions, but only in the 1950s and 1960s, received as much as 39 percent of the votes in a constituency (Fred Hunter in the 1954 general election in Belize Rural), but no defined third party has ever done that well.

Sometimes there have been movements in places like Corozal Town and San Pedro Ambergris Caye which appeared to be third parties, such as the Corozal United Front (CUF) and the San Pedro United Movement (SPUM), but time has always shown such to be branches of one of the major parties under a temporary regional name. The best performance ever by a third party was by the Belmopan-confined Vision Inspired by The People (VIP) in a Belmopan municipal election some years ago, when the VIP pulled almost 23 percent of the vote.

There were candidates for the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) in the 1961 general election who polled as much as 38 percent (the CDP”s Nicholas Pollard in Albert), 30 percent (the CDP’s Eduardo Espat in Cayo South), and 25 percent (the CDP’s Arthur Wade in Belize Rural North) of the vote, but the CDP, even though this was the only general election in which it ever participated, could not be considered a conventional third party in the aforementioned 1961 general election. The National Independence Party (NIP), which became Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition between 1961 and 1974, polled only 23 percent of the vote in the 1961 general election. The PUP won all 18 House seats in that election. Both the CDP and the NIP were participating in a general election for the first time. It was not abundantly clear at the time which of the two parties was the primary challenger to the PUP and which was secondary.

Our point is that the BPP will not be a factor in the March 7 national municipal elections, except possibly by way of damaging the primary challenger, the PUP, in close races. There are intellectuals and commentators in the diaspora who may react emotionally to the categorical statement in the previous sentence, but we are willing to put our money where our mouth is. We been there.

Probably the most famous case of a second challenger damaging a primary challenger in modern Belizean politics occurred in the October 1974 general election, when the UBAD Party candidate, Evan X Hyde, received 89 votes in the Collet race, where the UDP’s Kenneth Tillett lost to the incumbent PUP’s Harry Courtenay by a single vote. Tillett’s campaign manager, Michael Finnegan, spent many years ranting and raving that X Hyde, whom he dubbed “89”, had cost Tillett the Collet seat. Finnegan knew fully well that it was the incompetence and lack of stamina of the UDP’s Collet counting agents which cost Tillett the Collet seat. But, it was convenient for the UDP to find a scapegoat.

There was a lot more to the 1974 Collet race than that, however. The UDP had brought in Ken Tillett from Oklahoma to run for them in Collet. The PUP began claiming that Tillett did not satisfy the one-year-residency in Belize legal requirement to be a candidate. Amidst that uncertainty, Evan X Hyde declared his UBAD Party candidacy with the thought that perhaps the UDP would have to endorse him. But there was bad blood between the UDP’s Lindo/Finnegan and the UBAD Party President, Evan X Hyde, because of the circumstances in which the UBAD Party leadership had been divided in 1973 to facilitate the birth of the UDP. So then, one thing had led to another thing …

A dramatic and relevant case of a second challenger’s muddying the waters occurred inside the PUP in 1994. After their unexpected general election defeat in June of 1993, PUP leadership had invited Evan X Hyde to replace Carlos Diaz as their Lake Independence chairman/standard bearer. X Hyde declined, and instead suggested his second son, Cordel, who was still in college in the United States, for the assignment. PUP leadership pretended to accept the Cordel suggestion, but a powerful faction decided to renew support for Diaz. At the time, Rt. Hon. George Price was still PUP Leader, but he was fading, and Deputy Leader Said Musa was probably the PUP’s mover and shaker in Belize City. After Cordel Hyde began campaigning for the PUP’s Lake I chairmanship convention, and Carlos Diaz declared his candidacy, a second challenger appeared and absolutely refused to withdraw.

One week before the said 1994 convention, Evan X Hyde privately advised Cordel Hyde to withdraw, arguing that he could not win, because the two challengers to the incumbent Diaz would divide the anti-Diaz vote and facilitate a victory for the incumbent. It was at that point that the then 21-year-old Cordel Hyde made a personal decision to proceed with his candidacy. The rest, as they say, is history.

A major irony in all the political history which came up in this editorial is the fact that Lake Independence is by far the largest of the three electoral constituencies (the other two being the present Queen’s Square and Collet) into which the original Collet was divided in 1984. So that, when Cordel Hyde represents Lake I in the Belize House of Representatives, he is representing an area where his father was badly beaten, and ridiculed by the Lindo/Finnegan UDP in 1974 and thereafter. Such is life.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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