Even the most committed activists are often tempted to succumb to defeatism. The prevailing institutions seem too powerful to challenge; orthodoxies feel too entrenched to uproot; there are always many parties with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. But it is human beings collectively, not a small number of elites working in secret, who can decide what kind of world we want to live in. Promoting the human capacity to reason and make decisions: that is the purpose of whistle-blowing, of activism, of political journalism.
– pg. 253, NO PLACE TO HIDE: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. surveillance state, Glenn Greenwald, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2014
Between 1979 and 1984, this newspaper proved, at least for the benefit of ourselves, that the 4 percent of the electorate which we demonstrably influenced, could have a decisive effect on general elections under certain circumstances.
We did not experience any euphoria on appreciating the significance of our role, but rather we went through a period of sober analysis. In national elections, one is dealing with people’s lives; one is dealing with the direction and the fate of the Belizean nation-state.
A large amount of the energy in Belizean election campaigning is financial energy. Belize’s is a small, struggling economy, and any injection of substantial liquidity into the system immediately raises energy levels amongst the Belizean people. Post-modern election campaigning has become a matter of the two major political parties acquiring the millions needed for campaign financing, and then organizing their members and supporters on a salaried basis to work from house-to-house and from street-to-street compiling the information which will enable the parties’ election generals to bring out the maximum amount of favorable voters on election day itself.
When universal adult suffrage (one man, one vote) was introduced in British Honduras in 1954, it was supposed to be a giant step forward for our fledgling participatory democracy. In 1954, political campaigning was not hardly as expensive and as sophisticated as it is today. In the early national campaigns of the anti-colonialist era, our thesis is that the popular will was more important than campaign financing.
There was a point when campaign financing became more important in Belize than the popular will. It is hard to pinpoint exactly when this happened. As we entered the self-government era after 1964, both the major parties seemed to enjoy comparable levels of popular support and campaign financing. We can say that between 1974 and 1979, the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), which was expressly anti-communist, enjoyed more campaign financing and showed more flashy campaign paraphernalia than the ruling People’s United Party (PUP).
Campaign financing does not decide general elections. The most outstanding example of this is 1993, when the incumbent PUP had more money to spend than the hasty UDP/NABR coalition. UDP/NABR, despite the blue money, defeated the PUP. And, it did seem in 1979 that the UDP had more campaign financing than the PUP, but the PUP won.
Where campaign financing is exposed for the monster that it is, is when candidates and parties independent of the PUDP mainstream try to compete in the democratic electoral process and are intimidated and crushed on election day. There is where the system is saying to us today: no money, no love. If you can not attract substantial campaign financing, you are wasting your time politically in Belize. You have to build an election machinery, and nowadays the campaign workers must get paid.
In that specific reality – the salaried nature of campaign work, the rank-and-file of the two major political parties have now sacrificed all their community issues to the business agendas of the oligarchs who provide the campaign dollars. Thus, the promise of universal adult suffrage has been destroyed, and the Belizean democracy has become an oligopoly. The few with the money give instructions to the many who are without.
Socio-political events which took place between late 2004 and 2006 are noteworthy. The years between 1998 and 2004 represented a state of administrative paradise in Belmopan for the Belizean oligarchy. Many PUP insiders became rich, and many who were rich, became richer. Scandals in the Social Security Board and the Development Finance Corporation brought the people of Belize into the streets between late 2004 and 2006 in order to demand their participation in the financial governance of Belize. The socio-political events of this period were extraordinary, in that it was all about the popular will: the apple cart of the oligarchs was overturned by the people.
All this agitation by the masses of the people redounded to the political benefit of the then Opposition UDP, it being the case in Belize that when you become angry at one party, there is only one other for you to embrace. Thus, the UDP, which had been a cipher as late as early 2004, became the juggernaut of the 2008 general election. The UDP are still in office, and power has essentially returned to the oligarchy.
Salaried spokesmen of the now Opposition PUP are frustrated at the fact that the masses of the Belizean people have not yet chosen to express their popular will where condemnation of UDP corruption and excesses are concerned. They wish for there to be a repeat of late 2004 to 2006, with the UDP administration as the target in 2014.
The situation in Belize, however, has changed since 2014. There are leaders in this new Rod of Correction (ROC) who were there in the streets from late 2004 to 2006, and they have seen how the militant popular will of that period has become the arrogant entitlement of the UDP Cabinet. It would appear that the ROC has the theoretical power to do to the UDP what the Belizean people did to the PUP between late 2004 and 2006. But there are ROC leaders who have watched the Belizean people get burned by the UDP. Once bitten, they are twice shy. Because there was no ROC in 2004, the UDP totally exploited the situation. Because there is an ROC in 2014, the present game is different.
Power to the people.