Younger generations of Belizeans know, I assume, that they have potential political power in their hands, but they are not sure how to convert potential power into real power. Worse, they are not even sure they really want to acquire that political power, because they have been programmed to consider electoral politics to be dirty and dishonest, and to stay away from it if they want to remain pure and principled. Some younger Belizeans, moreover, are intimidated by the street and media power of the ruling UDP and the Opposition PUP, and they do not want to be publicly humiliated and scandalized.
Those younger Belizeans who have participated in the various third party and activist initiatives we have seen in Belize over the last decade or so, have seen for themselves how important money and other material resources are once you enter the public arena. The experiences they have had may have tended to sober them more than inspire them.
The bottom line is, nevertheless, that Belize is a participatory democracy. There are free and fair elections, so that if you seriously believe that something needs to be changed, and if you believe that the PUDP are jointly opposed to that change, then you do not have to make violent revolution. You can organize peacefully to acquire a mandate from the Belizean people to make that change. No one’s going to torture or murder you in Belize as they do in military dictatorships.
It is fairly clear that both the UDP and the PUP are opposed to proportional representation, which is the obvious answer to these disproportionately strong governments we have in Belize, governments which can’t help themselves from becoming corrupt. By “disproportionately strong,” what we mean is that governments which are elected with, say 55% of the election day voters, govern for five years as if they were unanimously elected. Remember now, it is only about 70 percent of the registered voters who actually vote on election day, and there are thousands of adult age Belizeans who are not registered. So, in real numerical terms, with respect to the total number of sane, adult Belizeans, all these governments in Belize, from Price to Barrow, are minority governments, yet they behave like divine right monarchies. They do whatever they want, and ignore the complaints of the people.
Under the system of proportional representation, the PUP would have been forced out of office in late 2004 or early 2005, and there would have had to be new general elections. With the system of proportional representation, the UDP would probably be forced out of office this year, and we would have new national elections.
So, proportional representation is the answer to perhaps Belize’s most vexing problem – excessive power accumulation and corruption in minority governments which are disproportionately strong. But it is obvious that neither the UDP or the PUP wants proportional representation. If younger generations of Belizeans decided that they wanted proportional representation, then they would have to organize to acquire political power. If the younger generations organized sufficiently to alarm the PUDP, then the PUDP themselves may decide to accept proportional representation in their manifestos. But, by the time the PUDP became threatened enough to do this, the third force which threatened them would be able to win elections anyway.
You younger generations have more potential electoral power than we had in my time, because you have the 18-year-old vote. This was not introduced until 1978, and it was done so primarily because of the agitation of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), which became the UBAD Party in 1970 and was dissolved in 1974. When Assad Shoman and Said Musa ran for national office for the first time in 1974, they lost. The 1978 18-year-old vote assisted them in winning their seats in 1979.
You younger generations have far more media power than we had in my time, because you have free radio and television, and you have the social media. These things did not exist in my time. All we had was the public meeting and a newssheet called Amandala.
You have far more facilities at your disposal, and yet you are not organized and mobilized. Yes, you need much more money for organization and mobilization than we required in my time, but the commitment has to come before the money. If the money comes first, that will mean that you will be working for the same people who have the system the way it is and who are happy with the status quo which you wish to change.
If you are going to become serious about participating in your country’s public life, you must be prepared to offer yourself for public office. This means that you have to tailor your private life for public scrutiny. Personally, unlike Shoman and Musa, I was never interested in public office, so, even though I ran for elections, I never adjusted my private life for public scrutiny.
Both the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) and the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) were interested in me as a political candidate, in 1971 and 1977, respectively. The PUP, incidentally, wanted me to remove the “X” from my name so that I would be a more “acceptable” candidate. The fact that I had a street following ended up providing the leverage I needed first to strengthen Amandala and then to defend it from successive governments. So, you see, even though I never came close to winning an election, the popular support I received during my time in public life (1969 to 1977) provided the foundation for what you see at Kremandala. We’ve created about 80 full-time jobs, and we have a positive impact on important issues.
I am urging you younger Belizeans to become active in public life. The opportunities and facilities are there for you to do it. I believe that if you demonstrate the real commitment, diaspora Belizeans will support you financially. Don’t be afraid of the PUDP. Once the people see that you are real, the people will protect you.
Power to the people.