We wrote in these editorial pages before last week’s general elections that we were concerned about the dangers a third consecutive United Democratic Party (UDP) term posed to this newspaper. The people of Belize, and we have expressed this opinion before, did not really wish to give the UDP a third consecutive term, but the Belizean people never believed that Francis Fonseca, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Leader appointed in November of 2011, was his own man, so to speak. On November 4, 2015, the Belizean people, whether correctly or not, believed that Francis Fonseca, as Prime Minister, would have received instructions from Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca.
The individuals at the highest levels of the PUP who were Francis’ handlers were so afraid of the opinion of the rank-and-file of the party that they refused to have him endorsed by a national convention of the PUP. These individuals preferred to violate the PUP constitution. In their misguided position, they were buttressed by the remarkable performance of the PUP in the March 2012 general elections, when the party, under Francis’ leadership, came within fewer than 75 votes of a stunning 16-15 upset victory. This almost inexplicable performance by Francis’ PUP, after just four months of his leadership, became the justification and the excuse for almost four years of executive, anti-democratic rule inside the PUP.
The March 2012 general election results convinced Francis’ handlers that the PUP was sure to win the next general election. Since the PUP was the only viable option to the ruling UDP, and since March 2012 demonstrated that the UDP was seriously vulnerable, all they had to do was protect Francis from leadership threats like Johnny Briceño, and Francis would become Prime Minister and happy days would return for “the boys.”
Now, dear readers, one of the main reasons various European countries began abolishing substantive monarchies (England beheaded Charles I in 1649 and France guillotined Louis XVI in 1793) was because of the matter of succession. In the old days of monarchy, when the king died, his first born, “legal” son automatically was crowned king. There were all kinds of problems with that after a while, such as kings without legal sons and sons who became king when they were still young children. Democracy essentially removed the power from kings and those around them to appoint and install successors.
Few people inside the PUP remember or want to remember that the party was six years old, and had won a historic national election in 1954 (Belize’s first under universal suffrage), before the Right Honorable George Price became Leader in 1956. The British almost immediately moved to destroy Mr. Price politically by throwing him out of a London conference in 1957 and then charging him with sedition in the Supreme Court in 1958, but by late 1959/early 1960, the British had to cut a serious deal with Mr. Price, So that, less than four years after Mr. Price became PUP Leader, he was well on the way to becoming a mythical, iconic Belizean hero, a folk hero in fact.
Mr. Price’s PUP went on to slaughter the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) and the NIP in coalition with the People’s Development Movement (PDM) in three straight general elections, winning 51 out of 54 House seats between 1961 and 1969. Mr. Price’s PUP was a juggernaut. The first real election threat to his PUP came with the United Democratic Party (UDP) in the 1974 general elections.
It seemed to us at the time of the first UDP threat that it was then that a movement began inside the PUP to manufacture a cult around Mr. Price. This is only our private opinion. In any case, Mr. Price went on to lead Belize in 1981 to independence, our people’s Holy Grail. In a sense, for Belizeans Mr. Price became greater than Moses, for Moses had only seen the Promised Land: he did not reach it.
Between 1984 and 1989, there were specific individuals inside the PUP who relied on the iconic nature of Mr. Price’s standing in the PUP to rebuild the party after its first ever national defeat in December of 1984, but they also exploited Mr. Price’s popularity and his personal blessing to install and cement themselves in positions of control at Independence Hall. If you call names, we will whistle.
During Mr. Price’s glory days, the PUP faithful had become used to, and comfortable with, merely endorsing his decisions when party conventions were held in accordance with the PUP constitution. When Mr. Price’s favorites began taking over the party, and the decisions offered to the party faithful for ratification became more and more their decisions, instead of Mr. Price’s, they found it convenient to continue the practice of fundamentally undemocratic (some called it “guided democracy”) conventions. By the time these same individuals installed Francis Fonseca as PUP leader in November of 2011, they obviously had decided to dispense with national conventions until they could control same.
Let us return to the UDP’s third term issue. It is agreed that Lord Acton said it best: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The very nature of Belize’s political constitution creates a monarch out of the Prime Minister, who becomes such because he is the recognized, accepted Leader of the political party which wins the majority of the House seats in the relevant general election. When the monarch becomes a third term monarch, he is no longer constrained from vanity or excesses because of electoral considerations. Such a monarch is free to sail. Woe to those who have been his critics or his rivals.
A third term monarch is even more dangerous when his Opposition is not in the best of shape. It is the Opposition which is supposed to protect the Belizean citizenry from the monarchical nature of the Prime Minister-ship. Belize’s PUP Opposition has fallen into a kind of intellectual disarray because of the power grab by those who had been blessed by Mr. Price. Hopefully, the PUP can return to their democratic roots as soon as possible and fulfill their constitutional role in an appropriate manner. Otherwise, “dawg eat wi suppa.”
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.