The political parties of Belize, of which the only two national such are the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), are professional organizations which are in the business of competing in the various nationwide elections held in the country of Belize. These include village council elections, municipal elections, and general elections.
The most important of these elections are general elections, scheduled to be held every five years. Municipal elections are held every three years. The general elections are the most important, because the most money is at stake: the national tax base is the prize. The political party which wins the majority of the 31 seats in the House of Representatives, forms a government which is sworn in by the Governor-General, who is the local representative of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain, the head of the Belizean state. Governments have the power to levy and collect taxes from the citizens of Belize. If the citizens for any reason(s) refuse to pay, the governments have permanent, organized bodies, such as the various courts of Belize, supported by the police and the army, to force citizens to do the will of the government, in other words, pay.
The Government of Belize, or the Ministerial Cabinet of Belize, is the most powerful group of citizens in the nation, because they are legally empowered to collect money from the people of Belize in any amount which that government chooses. With the money they collect, the Government of Belize is charged to provide various services to the people of Belize, including public service, education, health, infrastructure, judiciary, and other services.
A Government of Belize derives its power from the will of the Belizean people as expressed in free and fair elections. The UDP and the PUP compete in these elections, of which, to repeat, the most important are general elections, to see which of them will win the majority of the votes which are cast in elections. In most cases, the majority of the votes will result in a majority of House seats. The majority of the votes cast (as reflected in seats) represents the will of the people, and we say that these elections constitute the basis of our system of democracy.
When this newspaper was established in August of 1969, the ruling party in Belize was the PUP, which held 16 of the then 18 seats in the House of Representatives. The Opposition in 1969 was the National Independence Party (NIP), which held just two seats in the House. The Amandala was established by a cultural organization called the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), which had been founded in February of 1969. (The Reporter, incidentally, was established in 1967 by the British Honduras Chamber of Commerce.) In 1969, the present publisher of Amandala was both the president of UBAD and the editor of Amandala.
The ruling PUP suddenly called general elections for December of 1969. (This was four months before the elections were due.) The NIP had split in May of 1969, following a challenge for leadership by the attorney Dean Lindo. When NIP Leader Philip Goldson defeated him in a national convention of the NIP, Mr. Lindo broke away and formed his own party – the People’s Development Movement (PDM). When PUP Leader, Hon. George C. Price, announced the election in November, the NIP and the PDM hurriedly came together to form the NIPDM coalition, and they sought to get UBAD to support them. At the time, UBAD had recently joined in a coalition with the People’s Action Committee (PAC), led by the attorneys Assad Shoman and Said Musa. The UBAD/PAC coalition refused to support the NIPDM coalition.
In the December 1969 general election, the PUP won 17 seats and the NIPDM won only one seat – that of NIP Leader Philip Goldson in the Albert constituency. The following month, January of 1970, the UBAD/PAC coalition broke up, and the month after that, February of 1970, the PUP decided to arrest the two most important UBAD leaders, Evan X Hyde and Ismail Shabazz, and charge them for seditious conspiracy because of an Amandala headline article. The two PAC leaders, Shoman and Musa, immediately offered to defend the two UBAD leaders, free of cost, in the Supreme Court of British Honduras.
Sedition is a very serious charge, and it is a political charge. UBAD was not a political party when that charge was placed on its leaders, so the question has to be asked: why did the PUP Cabinet of 1970, newly elected, decide on such a charge against an organization which was just a year old and was not involved in party politics?
As a result of that sedition charge and trial, which ended with acquittals in July of 1970, the UBAD leadership decided to re-organize itself as a political party, for the purpose of self-defence. The power of the PUP was immense and intimidating in 1970. The NIP and PDM had broken apart immediately after the December 1969 general election. There was no such thing as a United Democratic Party in 1970. This was formed three years later, in September of 1973.
In late 1971, NIP Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the House, Hon. Philip Goldson, asked the inexperienced UBAD Party to join his NIP in a coalition for the December 1971 Belize City Council election. In order to ensure a NIP defeat, Dean Lindo’s PDM boycotted the election. The December 1971 Belize CitCo election was the end of the NIP, although the party contested Town Board elections in December of 1972.
In January of 1972, Mr. Goldson went to London to study law. He closed down The Belize Billboard and left the NIP in the hands of Deputy Leaders Simeon Agapito Hassock and Ulric “Buntin” Fuller.
PDM Leader Dean Lindo defended UBAD Party leaders free of cost in several Supreme Court and Magistrate’s Court cases in the course of 1972, when the PUP and UBAD were battling in the streets of Belize City. In so doing, Mr. Lindo forged friendships in the UBAD Party leadership which proved valuable when he began to organize the new UDP in early 1973. In the course of 1972, the UBAD Party proved itself very powerful in the streets, especially with younger Belizeans, but the party had no financial support.
A mysterious political party came on the scene in late 1972 or early 1973, in time to sit at the Rectory Lane table where the new UDP was being organized. This party was called the Liberal Party, and what it was, was a Roman Catholic, anti-communist group, financed by powerful businessmen. Sitting at the table, then, when the UDP was being organized in 1973, were the PDM, whose Leader, Dean Lindo, was ticketed to become the UDP Leader; the NIP minus its Maximum Leader, Philip Goldson (studying in London); the mysterious new Liberal Party; and UBAD Party representatives. It immediately became clear that the UBAD Party, despite all its street credentials, was the least among the Rectory Lane apostles. This reality divided the UBAD leadership, some of whom wanted to be in the new coalition at any cost.
The new UDP was formally established in September of 1973, and won six seats in the October 1974 general election, after which Mr. Lindo was publicly named UDP Leader, although Mr. Goldson had returned from London in mid-1974. The UBAD Party was dissolved following the 1974 general election, in which Evan X Hyde had run as the party’s only candidate, in the Collet constituency.
The UDP has never acknowledged the role its UBAD allies played in providing street credibility to the new party. With the hindsight of history, we can all see that the Liberal Party, without any street credentials but provided with Church support and business financing, went on to dominate the UDP. The party’s first ever Prime Minister, Dr. Manuel Esquivel, came from the Liberal Party. Dr. Esquivel served two terms as a post-independence Prime Minister – 1984 to 1989, and 1993 to 1998.
Today, the evidence of UDP neglect of the Southside is all around us. In its beginning, the UDP used some UBAD allies, and then the UDP discarded them. This was politics. This is real.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.