Editorial — 10 February 2012
Opposition PUP Leader Francis Fonseca has taken a very big gamble in driving Albert’s Mark Espat and Lake Independence’s Cordel Hyde out of their constituencies. The very big gamble is that David Craig and Yolanda Schakron will win Albert and Lake I, respectively, areas which were considered sure seats for the PUP with Espat and Hyde.
The decision to alienate Espat and Hyde was inspired by the desire to establish ideological uniformity within the national executive of the party. That ideological uniformity appears to mean adherence to the principles of neoliberalism which were practiced by the two PUP Said Musa governments which held office from August 1998 to March 2008. As it stands today, it appears to us that the PUP is moving dangerously close to fascism at the top, but fascism is a philosophy not easily analyzed or explained. So, we will stay with “neoliberalism.”
This newspaper, everybody knows, supported Espat and Hyde philosophically, but that does not mean that we are here to speak for them. They have to do that for themselves.
What we can say here is that the ruling UDP has moved strongly towards populism under Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and, were it not for the fact that the PUP cannot yet bring itself to attack him as a “socialist,” because of their own posture during the 1970s, Barrow would have been thus attacked already. What the PUP has done is accuse him of being a “dictator” and of being “anti-business.” This is how the PUP have so far chosen to shape their campaign propaganda.
Because the trade unions have not turned against the Barrow government for 2012 the way they did against the Musa government in 2008, we cannot presently visualize the possibility of a PUP landslide victory. That is why Fonseca is taking a very big gamble, because he may need the aforementioned two seats in order to claim victory.
In September of 1989, the first general elections after the UDP landslide victory in December 1984, the PUP won the most narrow of possible victories, 15-13. The PUP immediately moved to bring the UDP’s Toledo West area representative, Stanley Usher, over to their side, so that they governed until 1993 with a vastly more comfortable 16-12 margin. In order to prevent possible “tie” elections in the future, the PUP then expanded the number of House seats, with the addition of Belize Rural Central, to an odd number – 29.
When the PUP lost the June 1993 generals by a 16-13 margin, they tried to bribe the UDP Cayo North’s Salvador Fernandez and the UDP Dangriga’s Chiste Garcia to change parties, which would have enabled the PUP to form a 15-14 government. “Someone” who must have been in charge of a modern, First World intelligence network, pulled UDP Leader/Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel’s coat, and he was able to save his government.
This newspaper is not in a position to discuss seats outside of Belize City, except for Belize Rural Central, of which the PUP say they are sure.
Inside Belize City, the UDP are sure of Queen’s Square and Mesopotamia, and the red are considered strong, based on their 2008 margins of victory, in Port Loyola, Collet, and Caribbean Shores. The PUP are probably sure of Fort George. Freetown and Pickstock are likely up in the air. What happens in Albert and Lake Independence may be critical.
As far as we are aware, this will be the longest general election campaign ever, roughly 36 days. All previous general elections have been precisely 30 days from dissolution of the House to election day. The unprecedented length of the campaign means there will be some opportunities for swings in electorate mood both at the constituency and the national level. It also means that experience will be an asset, because experience teaches candidates and committees how to pace themselves. The PUP will be inexperienced both at the candidate and committee level in Albert, and at the candidate level in Lake I. On the other hand, the UDP candidates in Albert and Lake I are both inexperienced.
The chances are the Prime Minister called the generals the same day as the municipals because he would have lost some momentum in the municipals, definitely in Belize City. Zenaida Moya has been a Mayoral disaster, and her City Councillors are almost as unpopular. The two-in-one way Barrow is doing it, means the municipal elections are now a March 7 afterthought.
Other UDP negatives are their knee jerk refusal to endorse the four-year term, which the PUP did even before the generals were announced, and the government’s public wrangling with the referendum groups who are seeking to stop drilling for oil in offshore and protected areas. The UDP mass naturalizations of immigrants were also clumsily handled, a public embarrassment.
On the PUP side, the general elections will be a referendum on Said, Ralph and their neoliberal “growth economics.” Without Mark and Cordel, the PUP will be arguing that they did nothing wrong between August 1998 and August 2004. This is an approach which makes for party unity, now that the most prominent dissidents are out of the picture. In the midst of their surging nostalgia, however, we have to remind the PUP that in the immediate post-independence era, they lost two out of three general elections between 1984 and 1993, and the one they won in 1989, they barely won. Finally, the PUP’s landslide 1998 victory was not won on a neoliberal manifesto platform. That naked neoliberalism emerged after they were safely in Belmopan.
Power to the people.