Features — 07 March 2018 — by Glenn Tillett
A look at the history of municipal elections

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 5, 2018– In March 1993 the People’s United Party won the Belize City Council elections decisively, so much so that then United Democratic Party deputy leader Dean Barrow, on viewing the raw totals at the old Civic, shook his head ruefully and said, ‘back to the drawing board’.

The PUP brain trust, emboldened by that decisive victory, called general elections at the end of June 1993 and lost narrowly.

In 1994 the ruling UDP almost swept the national town board elections but would lose the 1996 Belize City Council, and a year later, the town board elections — 46 of 49 seats. They were swept out in every town except for San Ignacio, where they took four seats.

In the Belize municipal elections, March 1, 1999 and March 1, 2000 the ruling People’s United Party won sixty seats and the United Democratic Party won five. In that 2000 election, voter turnout in 3 of the 8 municipalities was less than 12%.

The Belize municipal elections held on March 5, 2003 were the first to elect city councils (Belize and Belmopan) and town councils in Corozal, Orange Walk, San Pedro, San Ignacio/Santa Elena, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. 142 candidates ran in this election, of whom 25% were women.

This election was also the first to be held on the same day as a general election, although general and municipal elections had been held before in the same year. The ruling PUP won 47 of a possible 67 seats, with the UDP winning the remaining 20.

On March 1, 2006, voter turnout was low in the morning but picked up later. 153 persons representing four political parties and four independent candidates ran. The UDP stunned the PUP, winning sixty-four seats to three and won all the councils.

In Punta Gorda, however, incumbent mayor Carlos Galvez and Leonardo Chavarria (PUP) were elected, and in Benque Viejo, the PUP’s Armando Chulin sneaked on to the council by 17 votes. A total of nineteen women were elected, easily the highest such total ever. At least one woman was elected in each municipality except for Punta Gorda, where no women were nominated.

The UDP controlled all municipal boards for the first time ever (they previously came close in 1994 by winning all the municipalities after losing Belize City in 1993) and regained Belize City for the first time since 1986.

On 4 March 2009 turnout was historically low, falling from 68% in 2006 to 47% overall in 2009, with just 42% voting in Belize City. For the first time ever, one of the two major political parties was outpolled by a “third party,” with the VIP garnering 5110 to the PUP’s 5087 total votes in Belmopan. The PUP was also blanked in all the councils except for Orange Walk, where they won 3 seats.

On March 7, 2012, the municipal elections were held at the same time as the general election for the second time. The UDP won six municipalities whilst the PUP won three. The UDP also won the general election by a narrow margin. Turnout overall rebounded to 67.50%.

The March 4, 2015 municipal elections were a decisive victory for the ruling United Democratic Party, which won 62 out of the 67 seats nationwide. The Opposition People’s United Party lost control of town councils in Dangriga and Punta Gorda, maintaining a majority only in Orange Walk Town.

Emboldened by their victory the Barrow administration called general elections in November 2015 and won re-election to government 19-12.

This Wednesday, the voters’ rolls having swollen to 114,574 from 97,979 in 2015, a record number of votes are expected to be cast, though few seem to be expecting a record turnout as a percentage of the total voters registered and eligible to vote.

The advanced forecast calls for Wednesday to be a clear day with temperatures at 72 degrees when polls open at 7:00 a.m.

Independent candidates are on the ballot for the mayoralty in Belize City, Belmopan, Orange Walk, Corozal, Benque Viejo and Dangriga.

The Belize Progressive Party has 18 candidates for mayor and councillor in 4 municipalities. They have a full slate in Punta Gorda Town, where attempts to form a coalition with the PUP were reportedly rebuffed and an attempt to get their mayoral candidate to leave the race, allegedly by the UDP, was thwarted.

 It will be PUP mayoral candidate Carlos “Obeah” Galvez’s fourth run, having won twice and lost once.

Incumbent Dangriga mayor Francis Humpreys leads the UDP slate that includes former mayor Aaron “Jake” Gongora, who won in 2009 but lost in 2012. The council has swung back and forth between the UDP and PUP in the last 3 elections.

In Benque Viejo, Christian Castellanos, the PUP mayoral candidate, is reputedly the youngest candidate in the race. He challenges Marconi Sosa, who won the mayoralty in 2006. The UDP has won the last 7 consecutive town boards here.

San Ignacio-Santa Elena incumbent mayor Earl Trapp (UDP) was a three-time councillor before winning the mayoralty in 2015.

Kevin Bernard, the PUP incumbent mayor of Orange Walk, is widely expected to be re-elected to a third term. He has also served as a councillor.

Both PUP and UDP Corozal slates feature all new first-time candidates.

Both Elvin Penner (mayor) and Ramon Witz (councillor) ran on the 2003 UDP Belmopan slate and lost. Both men went on to win national office.

Some observers speculate that the UDP slate headed by incumbent Belmopan mayor Khalid Belisle may yet suffer from leaving popular 2-time councillor Anna Banner-Guy off the ticket. The PUP’s slate headed by Tanya Santos appears to have mounted a vigorous challenge.

Former 3-term mayor Elsa Paz broke the PUP stranglehold on the San Pedro Town Council in 2003, and the UDP has won 5 consecutive elections there ever since. Two-time incumbent mayor Danny Guerrero is expected to be strongly challenged by Andre Perez, who lost in his bid for councillor in 2009.

Even if only a half of Belize City’s 45,408 registered voters turn out at the 277 polling stations to cast votes, it will still be far more than any other municipality could muster even at 100%. The next largest municipality is San Ignacio Town, with 14,102 and then Orange Walk Town, with 12,401 registered voters.

The nation’s largest, oldest and most diverse municipality has served as the political bellwether for the national soul and this Wednesday’s election should be no different. After 4 terms of lassitude the PUP has been resurgent in the old capital, while the UDP has been on the defensive, rocked by several scandals at the national government level.

Counting of the ballots, usually a tedious task, will take place at the ITVET on Freetown Road following the closing of the polls at 6:00 p.m.

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Deshawn Swasey

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