The important thing this week on Wednesday, February 11, the day on which candidates for national municipal elections were nominated, was the color of the apparel/paraphernalia and the size of the party crowds the respective political parties were able to generate. Nomination Day is a show of strength in order to boost the morale of campaign workers and, in certain cases, intimidate the opponents.
At this newspaper, we have written off the third parties in Belize, because they refuse to unite in a national organization. We did this reluctantly, because some of the people in the third parties are our personal friends, and we believe they are sincere.
No one can say for sure, but it is quite possible that there are more independent voters in Belize than there are committed United Democratic Party (UDP) or People’s United Party (PUP) voters. From election to election, the committed UDP or PUP voters are a numerical constant of sorts, but the independent voters move from side to side on the political party spectrum. The independent voters are responsible for the massive swings in election results, such as that from 2003 to 2008, from PUP to UDP.
On an average, the individual independent voter is more politically educated than the committed UDP/PUP voter. The independent voter tries to discover what the issues are in an election, so that he/she can cast his/her vote in an intelligent manner. It has become more and more difficult to find out what the substantive issues are in Belizean elections, because the discourse has become so much a matter of personalities and emotions, as reflected in the colors – red for the UDP, blue for the PUP.
Belize has not held any significant elections since March of 2012. By “significant,” we mean general or municipal elections. There have been village council elections since 2012, but, ideally, these are not supposed to be competitions between the red and the blue, although they have become so in the new millennium. The municipal elections scheduled to be held on March 4 should give us our first numerical measure of UDP and PUP strength in the different cities and towns since March of 2012. The results of March 4 may shed some light on the unprecedented March 2012 general election results, or they may create some new confusion for political students to try to analyze.
In an interview with the media on Nomination Day, the Leader of the Opposition PUP, Hon. Francis Fonseca, declared that the strength of the PUP was in Belize’s rural areas. We can’t be sure precisely what he means by “rural,” although our sense is that “rural” is the opposite of “urban,” which is to say, not of the cities and towns. The problem with Mr. Fonseca’s statement is that so many of Belize’s District parliamentary constituencies combine both urban and rural voters, and because of that combination the fact that the PUP won 11 of the 18 seats in the Districts other than the Belize District in the 2012 generals, does not necessarily confirm Mr. Fonseca’s statement.
Again, how exactly do you define “rural”? Strictly speaking, San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker constitute a division called Belize Rural South, but Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are now probably more urban than rural. So are Ladyville, Lord’s Bank and Hattieville, which make up most of Belize Rural Central.
In any case, the notable, unprecedented aspect of the 2012 general election results was that the UDP won 8 of the 10 Belize City seats, while the PUP, to repeat, won 11 of the 18 seats outside of Belize City/Belize District, including all 4 seats in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. Since modern party politics began in Belize in 1950, and since the first national election held under universal adult suffrage, in 1954, there has never been such a discrepancy between voting patterns in Belize City/BelizeDistrict, as opposed to the five other Districts – Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Was this a one time aberration? The results of the next month’s municipals will provide political students with fresh statistics to compare with 2012’s.
At the end of the day, it is really all about the next general election, whenever that is. The UDP has to call new generals by March of 2017, but may do so any time before then. At stake will be control of a billion-dollar national budget, and thousands of jobs for the respective party faithful. Except insofar as they provide a read on the next generals, the March 4 municipals are not all that important in themselves. The municipal budgets are relatively small.
The January 5 by-election in Cayo North, where a PUP incumbent had resigned his seat and a UDP candidate won big over a new PUP one, was even less important than the March 4 municipals. The PUP defeat on January 5 did not affect Mr. Fonseca’s PUP leadership status, but the results of March 4 may.
For independent Belizean voters, Nomination Day and even March 4 are much ado about not much. The real issue in Belize is economic development philosophy, and there is no difference there between the UDP and the PUP. Presently, the political conversation in Belize, to repeat, involves personalities, emotions, and colors.
This is not to say that the political intensity will not become higher and higher as we approach March 4. Party insiders and cronies make a lot of money in Belize when their party is in power. Belize’s economic development philosophy favors wealthy foreigners. What this has meant is the enrichment of ruling party insiders and cronies, not to mention corrupt politicians. It is plain to see, where independent voters are concerned, that the two major political parties are corrupt, and not that much changes for the masses of the Belizean people when red changes to blue, and vice versa …