Features — 10 January 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
PUP to take EBD to court

Election and Boundaries Department’s decision to disqualify petition signatures is illegal, the party said

Last week, the petition that was launched by the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) for the recall of the current UDP Cayo North East area representative, Hon. Elvin Penner, was flatly struck down before the process could have gone any further, which led to heavy criticism from the PUP, who accused those involved of “playing politics.”

Well, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) came out swinging today, and even claimed sabotage with regard to the 337 petition signatures that have been recently disqualified by the Elections and Boundaries Department – the government body which was responsible for the vetting of the over 2,000 signatures.

Yesterday, in Belize City, the Elections and Boundaries Department held a press conference, in which a group of senior public officers – including Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai – did their best to explain why they had to disqualify the over 300 signatures and justify the ineligibility of those signatures.

According to the personnel from the Elections and Boundaries Department, some 1,665 signatures were found to be acceptable, while a total of 52 signatures did not match. Another 52 were not registered in Cayo North East; 52 were not registered any at all; 11 of the petitions had no signature at all, and 79 petitioners signed twice, while four signed three times, so they were all rejected, said Tamai.

The PUP is most disturbed by the 83 signatures, which were duplicates and triplicates, and even more so because the petition came 79 approved signatures short of passing the threshold, meaning that there were 83 people who signed for a recall, but they were rejected because they did so more than once.

Nevertheless, at their press conference today, the PUP felt that they were given the “short end of the stick,” and heavily criticized the entire vetting process, which was done between November 28 and December 30, 2013, by 50 staffers from the Elections and Boundaries Department, including 8 very senior public officers,.

The disgruntled party refers to the rejection of the signatures as unlawful, illegal, unreasonable and irrational. Armed with documents and some of the actual election petitioners, the party representatives questioned the vigor with which the signatures were thrown out, and argued that many of the election petitioners have been arbitrarily disenfranchised.

According to the PUP, they have so far come across 140 such cases, which they will challenge in court. They accused the Elections and Boundaries Department of “cycling democracy”, “eroding” voters’ democratic rights and putting the interests of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) over the interests of the people.

The PUP’s Secretary General, Myrtle Palacio – who is herself a former Chief Elections Officer – went into detail regarding the numbers that were provided by the members of the EBD at their press conference yesterday. She said that there were qualified persons who were registered electors in the Cayo North East constituency, but were still struck off the list for some reason. She stated that there was even a senior police officer from Cayo who was legitimately registered in Cayo North East, but who was also struck off the list.

PUP Senator Lisa Shoman, an attorney, said that there is a no law which requires the signatures on the petitions to match those contained in the binder at the Elections and Boundaries Department. Shoman said that additionally, there is no indication that Genoveva Marin possesses the qualifications of a handwriting expert; therefore, her determination is not necessarily valid.

The PUP is convinced that there was political intervention and that it was only an attempt by the UDP to hold on to power. Deputy Leader and Cayo South area representative Julius Espat mentioned that it comes as no surprise to them, because there have been several reports about voters who have been intimidated at their homes by public officers who were involved in derailing the process.

The PUP maintains that there were “holes” in the presentation that was made by the EBD officials, and therefore, they are still going to go over the data because they are satisfied that they had provided enough signatures to meet the 30% threshold.

In that regard, the PUP believes that they have an obligation and a duty to take the matter to court to seek judicial review.

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