Hon. Prime Minister, Dean O. Barrow, called the 2012 general election in March of that year, four years and a month into his five-year term of office. He is calling this November 4, 2015 general election just three years and six plus months into his five-year term. Mr. Barrow, Leader of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), has apparently come to the personal conclusion that the four-year term of office is the ideal. In fact, the five-year term remains the constitutional prerogative of the party which wins the majority of seats in Belize’s general elections.
This is a simple thing, the fact that the Prime Minister has chosen as he did in 2012 and 2015 with respect to ending his elected term of office, but it is illustrative of the immense power which is placed in the hands of the Prime Minister when his party wins a general election. With respect to our democracy, it is as the Prime Minister wishes. His power is practically monarchical.
In fact, the so-called democracy of Belize is actually, ultimately, monarchical, because the Prime Minister has to be sworn in by Queen Elizabeth II’s Governor-General, and all the elected area representatives have to swear allegiance, in front of the said Governor-General, to “Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors.”
In return for the fact that the individuals we elect to office in Belize are more beholden to the Queen than to us, the Belizean people, what do we get from the Queen? There was a time when the Queen owed us defence of the territory, because British Honduras was one of her colonies. Today, Queen Elizabeth owes us nothing, Belize being “independent”, but we Belizeans owe her allegiance. At least, our elected area representatives do, which is to say, on November 4 we, the Belizean people, will elect a government to administrate the affairs of the independent territory of Belize on behalf of Her Majesty.
In 1984, Belizeans succeeded in changing the political party, the now Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), which had almost completely dominated Belize’s modern politics from 1950 onwards. An important aspect of that 1984 election campaign to understand today is that Belize’s epoch-making change of government was effected without an electronic media. The only radio station in Belize in 1984 was a government monopoly, and television was very much a fledgling concept, the programs still exclusively imported.
The rise of Belize’s electronic media, featuring first the proliferation of independent radio stations in the 1990s, and then an increasingly Belizeanized aspect of broadcast television with respect to political commercials, talk shows, and local news, had the effect of taking the Belizean people off the streets where the political democracy of our society was concerned. Nowadays, the people of Belize stay in their homes and listen on electronic media to all that political chatter which used to begin at the Belize Central Market in the hours before dawn, then spread through the city by human courier.
Next month’s general election will be very interesting from the standpoint that the Opposition PUP, with any number of issues since 2013 which should have galvanized their base, with popular support, to take to the streets, either chose not to or were unable to do so. There was a time when this newspaper could speak confidently on the nature of political campaigns, but in this electronic age we have to wait and see. There is also this phenomenon which has exploded and is called “social media.” This is the purview of the younger generations who are computerized, online, and conversational. Social media takes electronic communications to another level, just when we older heads are struggling to understand precisely what effects the electronic media of radio and television have been having on our participatory democracy.
The March 2012 general election is one which we have never been sure that we understand. It was the first general election ever in which there was this massive discrepancy between the voting patterns of Belize City/District and voting patterns in the Toledo, Stann Creek, and Cayo Districts. Belize City/District gave the UDP 10 seats out of 13, whereas Toledo, Stann Creek, and Cayo returned 6 seats to the PUP out of a total of 10. Plus, two Cayo constituencies came within 75 votes of giving the PUP 8 out of 10, and a majority in the House of Representatives.
Between October and November of 2011, the PUP had changed Leaders twice. Johnny Briceño resigned as Leader, to be replaced by Mark Espat, who gave up the position after just 11 days, and was replaced, by executive edict, by Francis Fonseca. When general elections were held just four months later, the PUP definitely did not appear to be in as strong an organizational shape as the UDP were, and yet the PUP came within fewer than those 75 votes from going to Belmopan.
Visitors and outsiders say that Belize’s democracy is vibrant, because they are judging principally from the electronic airwaves. Since it is the case that Belize’s parliamentary institutions are similar to those of the British Caribbean, it would be enlightening to know how democracy on the ground in countries like Trinidad, Guyana, Barbados, and Jamaica have been affected by modern electronic media and the new social media. This is really not the newspaper’s job. Where are the scholars? What is remarkable for its absence in Belize is any high-level intellectual discourse. Tertiary level students and faculties in our country do not study and analyze the practical workings of our democracy. If they do, then they are keeping it all to themselves. So then, what would be the point?
At this newspaper we do not see the masses of the Belizean people being as informed about the issues as they used to be. Moreover, the masses of the Belizean people do not care as much. Where there is not ignorance or nonchalance, there is cynicism. This is not as it should be, and it indicates how successful the oligarchy has been in drugging our people. Informed intelligence amongst the masses is the deadly enemy of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. In some respects, the proliferation of electronic media in Belize has been a boon, but too often out there sounds like cacophony more than education. We pause for a reply.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.