Of all the general elections I’ve seen here since I returned home from school in 1968, the 2012 general election is the one I least understand. Late on election night in March 2012, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) actually led in seats, if I remember correctly, but the incumbent United Democratic Party (UDP) came back in the end to win narrowly, 17-14.
It had appeared to most observers that the UDP held a substantial lead in that race entering election day, the main reason being that the PUP had experienced leadership instability between late October of 2011 and the early March 2012 generals. In fact, the likelihood is that UDP Prime Minister, Hon. Dean O. Barrow, called the 2012 general election eleven months early because he had reason to believe the PUP was in some kind of disarray.
In February of 2008, Said Musa had resigned as PUP Leader following a huge UDP victory in that month’s general election, and the following month John Briceño (Orange Walk Central), supported by Mark Espat (Albert) and Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence), had won somewhat of an upset victory in a leadership convention over Francis Fonseca (Freetown), the candidate supported by the PUP leadership powerhouses of the 1998-2008 PUP administrations – Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca.
Under sustained attacks by the Musa/Fonseca faction from 2009 onwards, however, Mr. Briceño, under duress, decided to resign leadership in late October of 2011. There was a remarkable period of eleven days following his resignation when Mark Espat led the PUP in the capacity of “Interim Leader,” and was then endorsed as Leader by 30 of the party’s 31 constituencies, the lone dissenting constituency being Arthur Saldivar’s Belize Rural North.
On more than one occasion since then, Mark Espat, who is my son-in-law, has told me of being summoned to a meeting by the 1998-2008 powerhouses, whereupon pretty much the first question they asked him was: “What are you going to do about Kremandala?”
Incidentally, Mark Espat has never gone public with his reason(s) for resigning as PUP Leader after just eleven days. (I wish he would.) He has said to me privately that he resigned because he believed that as PUP Leader he would be pressured by, and be beholden to, Lord Michael Ashcroft. He said this in more graphic words than I have written in the previous sentence.
After Mark’s resignation, Arthur Saldivar, Julius Espat (Cayo South), and Mike Espat (Toledo East) all jostled briefly for leadership until Francis Fonseca was appointed PUP Leader by executive order. And, it was Francis who led the grand old party into battle in March of 2012, and almost won, against the odds.
My column today is about the relationship between the Opposition PUP, in which my second son, Cordel, is national deputy leader, and Kremandala, of which I am chairman. Kremandala plays a unique and influential role in Belize, and Kremandala can play a role in general elections, as has been proven in 1979, 1984, and 1998, because we control 4 percent of the votes and because during 48 years on the Belizean scene we have steadily increased our credibility. But, the PUP is a much more powerful and important organization than Krem21andala, so that, all things being equal, I must defer to Cordel in a constitutional sense.
The question about Kremandala which the Musa/Fonseca axis asked of Mark Espat in late 2011 was not appropriate. Kremandala’s last open and direct intervention in public affairs had been dramatic: it had come after then Prime Minister Said fired then Tourism Minister Mark from his Cabinet in late December of 2004. So that may have been the reason Musa/Fonseca felt compelled to ask Mark the question they did. Whatever, whatever …
The people who make decisions in the PUP know that during Cordel Hyde’s time in Cabinet during the two Musa administrations of 1998 to 2008, there was never an occasion when Kremandala interfered in the business of his Ministries. Kremandala began to have a problem with the PUP’s administration of public finances in the early months of 2004. (I recommend you read an Amandala editorial from April 11, 2004 – PUBLIC FINANCES, PRIVATE DOMAIN.) The dysfunction in Belize’s public finances became an open scandal at the Social Security Board (SSB) in late July of 2004, and the SSB scandal then sparked the G-7 Cabinet rebellion of August 12, 2004.
Fast forward, if you will, to November of 2011. A rift began to develop between Mark Espat and the PUP almost as soon as Francis Fonseca became PUP Leader, replacing Interim Leader Espat. By general election day in March 2012, that rift had become bitter. If the PUP had won in March of 2012, there was a faction inside their leadership which would have been very hostile to Kremandala, even though we had nothing to do with Mark Espat’s resignation as Interim Leader or with the ensuing rift between himself and the PUP. So that, overall it was better for Kremandala, short term, that the UDP won in 2012. But that scenario changed drastically when the Citizen Kim/Elvin Penner passport scandal broke in September of 2013. In the aftermath of Kim/Penner, the UDP Barrow administration considered KREM Radio/TV’s talk show host, Mose Hyde (my eldest son), to be expressing opinions and taking positions hostile to their government. Soon Kremandala was branded an enemy of the ruling party by the UDP’s leadership. We came under artillery fire. Since then, members of the Barrow administration have gone so far as to brand us as “PUP.” It is what it is.
Kremandala is a pluralistic media institution whose editorial opinions on public affairs in our radio and television sections are expressed by our talk show hosts, Mose Hyde and Nuri Muhammad. They have complete freedom in that regard. KREM Radio/TV news editor, Marisol Amaya, also has freedom to editorialize, but she usually prefers not to do so. And, I suppose J. C. Arzu and Tony Wright enjoy “executive privilege.”
At the newspaper, yours truly is responsible for the editorializing. When it appears that the newspaper editorializing, on the one hand, and the radio/TV editorializing, on the other, are similar, it is not because of collusion or conspiracy. There is a certain philosophical background and landscape here which is basically shared, I submit, by the aforementioned 4 percent of Belize’s voting public.
There is another section of Kremandala, which is the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF). The chairlady of UEF, Ya Ya Marin Coleman, works part time at both KREM Radio and KREM Television. She is unabashedly opinionated, and her opinions are often even more controversial than those expressed by our newspaper and radio/TV editors. Ya Ya, nevertheless, is totally sincere. When she offends the ruling party, I am willing to, I have to, take the blame.
It is in the nature of the free press to criticize the political party which is in power. The public is not that interested in criticism of the party which is out of power. When the PUP comes to power, that will be a challenge for Kremandala. That is for sure. But, Kremandala has assisted in bringing political parties to power before, and immediately afterwards, in all those cases, we have walked away and returned to our own reality.
In Belize, our first-past-the-post political system invariably leads to excessively powerful ruling parties. Way back when, in 1969, the dissent in such matters as African and Mayan history, the 18-year-old vote, and radio time which fuelled the UBAD movement (which gave birth to Amandala), began a popular tradition which proceeded to consolidate this institution now known as Kremandala. As long as elected Belize governments become oppressive and abusive, as our present political system always influences them to become, Kremandala, I do believe, has a role to play in The Jewel.
Power to the people.