This has been an unprecedented post-general election period in Belize’s modern political history, in the sense that it has seemed as if campaigning continued and has not stopped since the March 2012 general election. One of the reasons for the highly energetic politics from then till now was the narrowness of the UDP victory back then. Another reason was the need for the new Opposition PUP Leader, Hon. Francis Fonseca, to consolidate the gains in prestige he had achieved with his party’s 14-seat performance in the 2012 generals.
Remember, Mr. Fonseca had been defeated by Hon. John Briceño in the PUP leadership convention in March of 2008. Then, when Mr. Briceño resigned, under some financial duress, in October of 2011, Hon. Mark Espat had been the PUP Interim Leader for 11 days, and in fact endorsed for the substantive leadership by 30 of the 31 PUP constituencies. It was not as if Mr. Francis entered the leadership like a conquering hero after Espat declined the PUP leadership offer: it was more like emergency surgery. The surgery was successful. The PUP came within 60 or 70 votes of winning the general election. It was a stunning performance, and Mr. Fonseca welcomed and deserved his party’s accolades.
Joseph Kennedy, the father of U.S. President John Fitzgerald, Attorney General Robert and Senator Ted, once said that there were three things which were important in politics, and these were money, money and money. There has not been a lot of PUP money circulating under the Francis Fonseca leadership. One big reason for that is that the wealthy people who normally finance the party know that, strictly speaking, general elections are not due for another three years.
During his leadership, Johnny Briceño got himself into trouble because, with the PUP financiers taking a leave of absence following the landslide UDP general election victory of February 2008, he had to finance the party himself. Between March 2008, when he was chosen PUP Leader, and October 2011, when he resigned, Briceño spent two or three of his own millions plus two or three more millions he borrowed, for the party’s use but on his personal guarantee to the bank. The question now is whether Briceño will be reimbursed, under a Francis Fonseca leadership, the millions he borrowed from the bank for the party.
And, because of that question, and with the ruling UDP staggering visibly and in danger of having to call early general elections, there are stirrings in the Briceño camp because of Johnny’s need for greater leverage. The PUP’s Cayo Central standard bearer convention scheduled to be held in late April, will feature Dan Silva against Luke Espat. Silva has been a longstanding Briceño ally. Luke Espat was a high profile Briceño loyalist at the 2010 Dangriga convention, but he must now be considered as being in the Francis Fonseca camp, which is where he was in 2008.
This constituency convention would have been of interest and drama even without the Francis-Johnny factor. This is because Luke Espat is such a large and controversial figure on Belize’s political and financial landscape, while Dan Silva himself has always been controversial in PUP leadership circles because of his independent thinking. The legal problems of his son increase the noise surrounding Dan.
If the Cayo Central convention is close enough, then the combatants will have to kiss and make up afterwards, because one will need the other for the generals. For the time being, however, and because of the larger picture involving Francis and Johnny, this is a convention which has the potential to divide the blue.
With respect to the UDP and the timing of the next general election, both the UDP government and the party itself are presently spending unusual amounts of money on television advertisements. In 2012, the incumbent UDP called the general election a whole year early. They did so because they believed the Opposition PUP to be disorganized. In fact, the UDP barely won. As it is today, the longer this government remains in office with the present cast of characters, the more Belizean popular resentment will grow. It is distinctly within the realm of possibilities, therefore, for the UDP to call general elections two years early this time, instead of one year early, and lump the generals and municipals together, as they did in 2012 and as the PUP did in 2003.
For sure Belize City Council elections must be held by March next year. In 2012, the place where the PUP were disorganized was in Belize City: the general election results established that the PUP were more organized in the districts than the UDP had thought. In any case, it appears a bit strange that the PUP in the old capital have not begun moving towards the choice of a CitCo slate and a Mayoral candidate for 2015.
If the stirrings in the Briceño camp were to become more than just stirrings, then Mr. Fonseca would probably have to remember that he is a Belize City standard bearer, albeit Northside. No one will ever be able to prove it, but it is possible that the PUP’s powerful performance in the districts in the 2012 generals was a product of the Johnny Briceño years in leadership.
On the UDP side, there is more confidence in their leadership circles than you would believe when you listen to the dissatisfaction in the streets. UDP confidence comes from the fact that they have money. No doubt the PUP will also have money when the time comes, but for now, the Joe Kennedy school of thought is the city’s university of choice: no money, no love.