BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 5, 2015–Following an unprecedented three-peat at the polls on Wednesday, November 4, 2015, the United Democratic Party’s leader, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, was historically sworn in for a third consecutive term of office by Governor-General Sir Colville Young this afternoon in the nation’s capital of Belmopan.
“We are ready to give our all one more time…,” Barrow said a mid-morning press conference held in Belize City.
“We will do our absolute best to deliver comprehensively and to serve ALL the people of this country,” he added.
After a rare recount of Stann Creek West votes this afternoon, Barrow’s party, the UDP, emerged with 19 seats, while the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) snagged its twelfth seat in the election, called almost two years before its due date.
Shortly after that recount started, the PUP publicly announced that former Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca, who won a decisive victory for the PUP in the Freetown division, would be stepping away to make way for a new party leader. Fonseca had held on to the leadership position since 2011, but the party has not won any of the elections under his leadership. The PUP walked away with 14 seats in the 2012 general election, and that figure was down to 12 for these elections – even amid proclamations from inside the PUP camp that their party would win in excess of 20 seats.
“This slogan ‘power to the people’ is not only words. It means that we want the people to be engaged in the political process, the decision-making. It’s not just rhetoric, but the Francis Fonseca administration if given the opportunity will be a consultative one. He will learn from the mistakes of the past,” said Fort George area rep, Said Musa.
“It’s like déjà vu for me, really; I’ve seen this movie before. That’s the kind of feeling I have, but I always get the excitement on election day, and I did get it today as well. It’s a nice feeling because I do know that I will get that support from the majority of the people and that is very gratifying,” Musa said.
It was indeed déjà vu—but of a different sort, since the UDP emerged with exactly the same amount of seats it held in Parliament before it called very early elections.
The UDP retained the following 16 of the 19 seats held going into the elections: Pickstock, Albert, Queen’s Square, Mesopotamia, Collet, Port Loyola, Belize Rural North, Belize Rural South, Corozal Bay, Corozal North, Orange Walk North, Cayo North, Cayo Central, Cayo West, Belmopan and Dangriga. Meanwhile, it added Belize Rural Central, Orange Walk East, Corozal South West, and lost Caribbean Shores, Lake Independence, and Cayo North East (Elvin Penner’s former constituency).
The PUP retained 9 of 12 seats: Freetown, Fort George, Corozal South East, Orange Walk Central, Orange Walk South, Cayo South, Stann Creek West, Toledo East and Toledo West. It lost Belize Rural Central, Corozal South West, and Orange Walk East, but gained Caribbean Shores, Lake Independence and Cayo North East.
In Lake Independence, the PUP’s Cordel Hyde administered perhaps the worst beating of the 2015 general elections to the UDP’s Mark King.
Belize City has the highest concentration of electoral divisions – home to 10 of the 31 seats available in Parliament. Whereas the UDP won the vast majority of those seats, it lost in the divisions of Freetown, Fort George, Lake Independence and Caribbean Shores—the division where the PUP delivered its biggest upset to the incumbent party, with the popular Belize City mayor, Darrell Bradley, being edged out by Kareem Musa, a newcomer to the political scene who had the advantage of being mentored by the most senior politician in Parliament, PUP Fort George area representative, Hon. Said Musa, who entered the political scene in the early 1970s and who landed his 8th win at the polls yesterday.
In the division of Fort George, Said Musa’s stronghold, an elderly woman, 66, who returned from the US to retire in Belize, says that her family traditionally supports the PUP. The voter praised the accomplishments of the ruling United Democratic Party; but she was straight-up in telling us that her allegiance stays with the blue team. She told us that Musa, her area representative, had pledged to continue the good things that the UDP administration of Dean Barrow had started, and had furthermore pledged special financial assistance to the elderly as well as financial help to her to complete badly needed renovations for her home.
Another elderly voter in that constituency, a businessman, told us that when he went to vote at St. Mary’s School in the evening, he was advised that someone had showed up in the morning claiming to be him; however, when the binders, which include photos identifying the voter, was checked, the officers immediately recognized the fraud, since the elector is fair-skinned and the voter pretending to be him was dark-skinned. We asked what was done about the attempt to vote in his name, but it appears that no action was taken.
Musa told us that he had not heard of the fraudulent attempt to use the man’s identity to vote.
We asked Musa about the political mentorship he has been giving his son, Kareem Musa. He said that he advised his son not to be disheartened if he lost the first time he tried to offer himself as a political candidate.
“He has to find his own way too!” said Musa.
Hours after our conversation, the counting of votes began and it was clear that Kareem was indeed in a hard-fought race, which ended with one of the narrowest margins in yesterday’s election, with Kareem beating Bradley by 56 votes: 1,777 for Musa and 1,721 for Bradley, who remains at City Hall as the two-term mayor of this municipality.
Bradley said that the machinery employed to get voters to the polls was the main factor. He said that he will continue to do the best job he can as mayor of Belize City.
“Today is the day after election. There is a new UDP government. We are very energized in relation to that. I am 100% supportive of the Prime Minister and the United Democratic Party and we move forward. It doesn’t make sense looking backwards… Of course, we have to do our own internal post-mortem. But it’s just looking forward with the optimism of an unprecedented third term with the United Democratic Party…”
The UDP landed a win in Belize Rural Central, where the veteran candidate Dolores Balderamos-Garcia of the PUP, was beaten by Beverly Castillo of the UDP in a tight race which saw Castillo win by a mere 58 votes; this victory most naturally brought some jubilation, but the loss in Freetown was felt in the UDP camp—just as was the loss in Caribbean Shores.
Barrow called the Bradley defeat the biggest shock of election night, but he had also threatened that the UDP candidate for Freetown, Dr. Carla Barnett, would have deposed Fonseca of his seat.
“I thought we had him. I thought Carla had him,” Bradley said.
The UDP’s Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington also survived at the polls on Wednesday, despite a strategic campaign by his opponents to depose him, as well as calls for his resignation or removal amid public disapproval in certain quarters over his handling of Belize’s diplomatic affairs with neighboring Guatemala, which has sustained an unfounded claim over Belizean territory.
“[The Guatemala issue] has been front and center in our local [and] national politics. I had hoped that that would not have been the case, because really it should not be a political issue; but I think that it is imperative and urgent that we educate our people. It’s the absence of education; people just don’t know,” said Elrington.
He said that when the topic comes up, he shares information and books with constituents. He was confident that Pickstock voters would give him yet another term in Parliament, because, he said, “I have been very attentive to the people in the division.”
Elrington told us that he has helped to provide training in culinary and sewing skills; and has aided with home construction; as well as infrastructure. He also spoke of having provided programs to employ scores of mothers and to pay for the education of their children.
The youngest Pickstock voter we spoke with, a sixth form student, supported the incumbent candidate, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington. She said that Elrington has been helping her with school expenses which her parents cannot afford to pay. She is disheartened by the negative energy that some people display when the political energy runs high and she expressed the hope that Belizeans can put their malice and hatred aside for the good of all.
A female mother of Pickstock, age 37, told Amandala that the two parties are “the same thing”. She said that she would give her vote to a third party if she were to be convinced that they would be different. On Wednesday, she cast her vote for Dr. Francis Smith of the PUP, whose workers were responsible for taking her to the polls.
Amandala attempted to get an interview with Dr. Smith. He asked us to wait twice then left in a vehicle without granting us an interview.
Two of the PUP’s male workers complained of the lack of employment and opportunities for them. One of them was unabashed about his support for the blue team.
The UDP ran a well-financed campaign in the Albert division, where Tracy Panton, former tourism CEO, beat the PUP’s Paul Thompson handily with the results being one of the earliest confirmed UDP wins for the night.
Panton told us that she was supported tremendously by the party machinery, including those who ran before.
While the Albert Division was among those with the lowest voter-turnouts, well below the national average, Panton said: “I’m not concerned about the percentages. I really am concerned about the win and I think we have really done enough to be able to do the best we can.”
She received nearly 60% of the votes (or 1,234 votes), while Thompson received 892 votes.
Will Panton, a former CEO, be among the ministers who will be named? We note that the last constituted Cabinet had 15 ministers, 11 elected reps and 4 drawn from the Senate. Barrow pledges that this Cabinet will consist of no more than 14 ministers, but all winners who are not made ministers will be made ministers of state with the responsibility for their own portfolios.
Barrow said that he will meet this coming weekend with each of the winners before announcing his new Cabinet early next week.
“The Constitution makes clear that only two-thirds of members elected for the ruling party can become ministers,” Barrow explains.
This is Barrow’s last term as Prime Minister, and he cautioned that, “There ain’t going to be any more early elections.” He plans to retire right before the next general elections so that his successor can become Prime Minister for at least a few months and take the party into general elections.
An official release announcing the swearing-in of Mr. Barrow this evening said the other elected representatives are expected to be appointed and sworn-in next week.
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See table of final results HERE