BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 28, 2015–The talk about early general elections has been in the air for several months now, but today Prime Minister Dean Barrow ended the suspense when he announced that he has advised the Governor General to dissolve the National Assembly and set November 4 as the date for general elections.
In the history of general elections in post-independence Belize, this is the earliest point in the term of a current administration that general elections are being called. The second term of the ruling United Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Barrow would not have ended until March 2017.
Barrow’s November general elections announcement appears to be a departure from his earlier stated position at the beginning of this month.
“Elections will be no later than the first part of next year. I am thinking in terms of the next general election of somewhere close to the 4-year marker, which would mean, then, that we are looking at not beyond February/March of next year,” Barrow had said in an interview.
The Prime Minister, in his release, said that Belize “was shunned by international concessionary lenders disgusted with the last Administration’s thievery of public monies,” and that his government’s overwhelming priority “was to replenish the state’s coffers; restore local and international confidence; rescue citizens desperately in need of relief; and bring back integrity to the Office of the Prime Minister, whose outgoing PUP occupant had, in 2005, been presented with a certificate of corruption by Union and Civil Society leaders.”
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) leader, Francis Fonseca, pounced
“The Petrocaribe monies are drying up. The banking system is in trouble. There are other issues facing the government, that we are aware of, that will come to the forefront very shortly.”
Fonseca said all of these things have led to this early, unexpected call for general elections, more than a year before they are due.
Fonseca, whose party has only recently reputedly resolved a split between 11 of its standard bearers and himself, said the PUP machinery is ready: “Constituency by constituency, we are ready,” he said.
The Opposition Leader, when asked about his party’s financial readiness, said, “The money will be there to fight this election.”
“We will be unveiling our policy paper on Health Reform, Economic Reform, Governance Reform, Education Reform, giving back the Belizean people their dignity,” Fonseca said, adding that the party would be “making sure there is a roof over your head, making sure you have access to land and making sure you can educate your children.”
“That is the message that we will be taking across the country”, Fonseca explained, “Providing an alternative to this UDP government which we believe have failed the Belizean people.”
Mr. Barrow, however, in listing his party’s accomplishments, mentioned, among other things, that “the Superbond was restructured, saving the country $500m; public officers are better paid than ever; the economy has added more than 4,500 jobs each year since 2007; the DFC is strong again; Social Security is safe and looking to increase benefits; most dramatically, of course, hundreds of millions in low-cost Petrocaribe funds are being invested in national infrastructure and community development. And this has resulted in an unprecedented proliferation of new highways, bridges, roads, streets, drains and sporting facilities in our cities, towns and villages.”
The Prime Minister, of course, mentioned BEL and BTL: “We have settled claims for both the BEL and BTL acquisitions. These vital public utilities are now and forevermore part of the national patrimony and benefits redound to Belizeans by way of the lowest light and telecom rates ever,” he said.
After saying that he is asking the people for a “fresh mandate,” he called his team of 31 candidates “the best ever.” This includes newcomer Dr. Carla Barnett, former adviser to the Prime Minister, whom Hon. Fonseca will be facing in his Freetown constituency. Fonseca said, however, that he is confident that he will deliver his Freetown constituency seat.
He said that he is also confident that the PUP has done its work during the transfer period. “We were on full alert and our constituencies have done their work,” he said.
Asked how soon the PUP will release its manifesto, Fonseca said the PUP manifesto is ready, “But we will sit down as an executive in the next day or two and will determine what our calendar will be for the next five weeks, and we will set an appropriate time for the unveiling of the manifesto,” he added.
Mr. Fonseca said the PUP’s manifesto theme is “Power to the People.”
“How do we give back power to the people? We believe the last eight years has been about the power of one man. Now it is time for the Belizean people to stand up and take back power from that one man”, he said.
Friday, October 16, is set as Nomination Day, when the two main political parties will each nominate 31 candidates, and the independent parties will also nominate their candidates for the seats they wish to contest.
So far, none of the independent parties appear to have anything resembling a full slate of 31 candidates.
In the last two general elections, beginning in 2008, the Dean Barrow led United Democratic Party topped the polls, winning 25 out of 31 seats in 2008. Then in 2012, the UDP won a second term, this time by a significantly slim margin of 17 to 14.
Since the general election of 2012, the PUP has lost ground, dropping two seats in bye-elections in Cayo and Dangriga.
Until the general elections results are in and the new government is sworn in by the Governor General, the country will be run by what’s referred to as a caretaker government.