Last year’s general elections were unique in my lifetime for at least two reasons. The first was the manifest difference between Belize City/District voters, who mostly went UDP, and voters in the other five Districts, who mostly went PUP. The second reason the generals were unique last year was because the PUP had not clarified their leadership until four months before the elections, and yet they came way close to winning. The last time something like this occurred was in 1969, when there was a split in the Opposition NIP in mid-year. When Mr. Price announced elections for December, the breakaway PDM hurriedly negotiated a coalition with the parent NIP. But, the NIPDM coalition won only one of the eighteen seats in the December 1969 general elections.
Why did voters outside the Belize City/District area see things differently? Well, Orange Walk Town’s Johnny Briceño was the PUP Leader from March of 2008 until October 2011, and he had been more comfortable, and presumably more effective, working outside of Belize City. I think this is where we have been looking for an answer – in the nature of the Briceño leadership.
I would say, nevertheless, that the single lay individual who hurt the incumbent UDP the most in the last elections was Audrey Matura-Shepherd. Apart from being a highly educated, highly intelligent, and fearless individual who was comfortable in the public domain, Audrey was a “fish fram riva batam.” Audrey Matura-Shepherd had been a hard-core UDP – appointed a UDP Senator at one point, and she had also been editor-in-chief of the UDP newspaper. In fact, she had faced jail because of material she published in the UDP newspaper, and she had not blinked or retreated an inch. When Matura-Shepherd began to blast the Barrow administration from her desk at Oceana, that was bad enough. But, there was more.
A few months before the general elections, LOVE FM, which has the only national radio signal in Belize, began airing a weekly discussion show which was simulcast on their national television station. This Wednesday night show was hosted by Nuri Muhammad, and the panelists were Francis Gegg, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, and Ann-Marie Williams.
We can see now that this was, in effect, a PUP show which appeared to be neutral to the casual viewer/listener. While Nuri and Francis were considered PUP friendly, and Ann-Marie was a known UDP, the vast majority of Belizeans did not know how antagonistic Audrey had become where the UDP administration was concerned. In other words, the LOVE Wednesday night show was 3 PUP, 1 UDP. At least that’s the effect the show had.
Matura-Shepherd is not a PUP functionary. That is for sure. But her performance on the LOVE show benefited the PUP substantially, as did her Oceana campaign against the Barrow administration oil policies. It is because Audrey is not a PUP, however, that PUP executive member, Lisa Shoman, could lead the charge against Matura-Shepherd’s recent anti-UNIBAM comments.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd does not think like a politician. If she did, she would, I think, be a candidate to become Belize’s first lady Prime Minister. No, Matura-Shepherd does not think like a politician. She thinks like a writer, which is to say, she thinks and speaks honestly. If someone groomed Audrey for the game of politics, however, the sky would be the limit for her.
One more thing. A few months ago, one of my friends pointed out to me something which indicated to him that Matura-Shepherd was extremely religious. I began to pay close attention, and there is evidence that my friend may be right.
It may be that extreme religiosity is now a liability in Belizean politics. I don’t know that. All I would say is that, if it is the case that it is now undesirable politically to be a religious zealot, then things have changed in Belize.
Our first Prime Minister was so religious that he went to two different seminaries, in Mississippi and in Guatemala, trying to become a Roman Catholic priest. That’s before he entered public life. And all during his public life, he went to 5:30 Mass every morning at Holy Redeemer Cathedral once he was in Belize. Mr. Price’s dedication to his religious denomination obviously did not damage his political career.
But, that was then and this is now. In the final analysis, a lot depends on where you go for your mandate. As the real estate people say: location, location, location …