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Monday, September 28, 2020
Home Editorial From here to referendum

From here to referendum

William Stuart was represented in court yesterday by a man who has usually been considered a member of a solid Opposition family – B. Q. A. Pitts. Stuart shot UDP supporters at a PUP meeting and is now defended by a UDP lawyer. Incredible.

– pg. 1 headline story in AMANDALA No. 655, Friday, January 8, 1982

If some voters in Belize view elections, and the present re-registration of electors in fact, as an opportunity to “hustle” the professional politicians of the two major political parties, this is not as reprehensible a perspective as more comfortable, hence often self-righteous, Belizeans may think. There is a lot of serious poverty in Belize; there is a lot of serious hunger in Belize. In 2018, poor Belizeans know that the professional politicians belong to political parties which are largely financed by wealthy individuals and companies, and that is the reason poor voters are not conscience-stricken when they try to bargain for a handout.

But this is not to say that poor, perhaps cynical, voters do not respect their individual ballots, and the voting process overall. This is not to say that poor voters are not patriotic, not nationalistic, or not intelligent. It is the case that some Belizeans, in order to survive, have to do what they have to do, as we would say.

The vast majority of the people of Belize are aware that the referendum scheduled for April 10, 2019, to decide whether Belize will go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final,binding arbitration on the Guatemalan claim to Belize, that referendum is serious business. It should be pointed out that it is theoretically possible for that existential referendum to be decided by a single vote. Such a theoretical possibility makes the present re-registration exercise a very critical process indeed.

Belize has seen at least two constituency races in general elections decided by a single vote. In 1974, V.H. Courtenay of the People’s United Party (PUP) defeated Kenneth Tillett of the United Democratic Party (UDP) by a single, solitary vote in Belize City’s Collet constituency. In 1993, the UDP’s Faith Babb won over the PUP’s Remijio Montejo by a single, solitary vote, in Belize City’s Collet constituency, would you believe. (In 1984, however, the original Collet constituency had been broken down into three divisions – Collet, Queen’s Square and Lake Independence. In other words, the Collet of 1993 was different from the Collet of 1974.)

On the national general election landscape, the PUP defeated the UDP by a single seat in the 1989 general election, 15 seats to 13. Yes, of course, 15 to 13 is a margin of two, but we take the liberty of saying the margin was a “single seat” in order to increase the drama of the situation, using the argument that had the last constituency (Orange Walk South) reported in 1989, gone UDP instead of PUP, the House of Representatives would have been in a 14-14 deadlock.

In 1993, after the Government of Belize had increased the total of House seats to 29 in order to ensure that a deadlock in number of House seats could not occur, the UDP defeated the PUP by a total of 16 seats to 13. In other words, had the PUP won two more seats in 1993, the PUP would have formed a 15-14 government. The defeat was so close and so bitter for the incumbent PUP, with the PUP actually polling 2,000 more popular votes than the UDP that three PUP operatives were actually charged in court for conspiracy to bribe the UDP Cayo North and Dangriga area representatives into crossing the House floor and changing a UDP victory into a PUP one.

In the 2012 general election, the number of House seats having been increased to 31, the UDP defeated the PUP by 17 seats to 14, but had the PUP won two Cayo seats which they lost by a total of only 65 votes, the result would have been 16 PUP, 15 UDP.

Now then, as the days dwindle down until April 10, 2019 and the ICJ referendum, it will be increasingly important for the officials in high position, the leaders of both the UDP government and the PUP Opposition, to choose their words carefully. The same applies to the media organs which service the general public. (When it comes to the so-called “social media,” this is not an area of our newspaper’s experience or expertise.)

On Wednesday, July 18, Channel 5 (also known as Great Belize Productions) hosted an ambitious “town hall” meeting in their Coney Drive studio. The meeting was hosted by Channel 5’s Marleni Cuellar and John Palacio, with the guests of honor being Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington and his chief executive officer, Patrick Andrews. A group of about ten students, mostly from tertiary educational institutions in Belize, were placed to ask questions of Mr. Elrington and Mr. Andrews about the ICJ referendum.

At the beginning of the town hall meeting, Minister Elrington was effusive in his praise for the Channel 5 initiative, repeatedly describing it as “patriotic.” By contrast, he pointedly referred to an unnamed media house which had approached his Ministry with a proposal for a basically similar type of forum. Mr. Elrington claimed that the unnamed media house was in the habit of generating comments and discussions in which support for the “no” to ICJ was frequent.

 At this newspaper, we know that the general manager of KREM Television, which would presumably have been doing simulcast broadcasting with KREM Radio, had previously approached the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with such a proposition as the Channel 5 version. We are of the belief that the media house not named is ours, the one on Partridge Street in the heart of Southside Belize City. The clear and deliberate inference was that the unnamed media house, by contrast to Channel 5, was not “patriotic.”

Give us leave, pray, to cut to the quick. Channel 5 is owned by Lord Michael Ashcroft, a British billionaire with Belizean citizenship. Lord Ashcroft bought Channel 5 from Stewart and Araceli Krohn a decade or so ago for a few million dollars. (The station had been given a national television broadcast license by the then PUP government in 1991.)

Before we proceed, let us explain something to you about Lord Ashcroft. He is never, ever personal. He is always absolutely clinical in his deliberations and transactions. The fact of the matter is, however, that the vast majority of Belizeans would not support a description of Lord Ashcroft as “patriotic.” Still, it is quite possible for Lord Ashcroft’s television station to be “patriotic,” especially on such an ad hoc basis as a town hall meeting featuring the learned Foreign Minister, when and whereas the British billionaire himself may not be, patriotic, that is.

 Fair enough. Let us consider the “unnamed media house” – Partridge Street. It is always said that self-praise is no recommendation. What we think of ourselves at Kremandala is not as relevant as what the good people of Belize think about us. In line with that thought, we are confident that in any kind of race involving Belizean patriotism, Kremandala would not consider Lord Ashcroft to be our competition.

One of the problems with Mr. Elrington’s government is that they chose not to allow for the differences between the newspaper, radio, and television branches of Kremandala, and they made a blanket condemnation several years ago. The problem was not theirs per se: governments are all-powerful. They don’t have problems. The problem was really Kremandala’s, and that problem took the form of a UDP government conspiracy to drive us out of business. As the conspiracy began taking shape a few years ago, we were initially puzzled, to be truthful. We were willing to grant that the Barrow government may have, with reason, considered Mose Hyde, YaYa Marin Coleman and Marisol Amaya of the KREM Radio/KREM TV axis to be hostile, but, by the same token, we were sure that the same brand could not have been applied to the editor and assistant editor of this newspaper, posts held at the time by Russell Vellos and Adele Ramos.

Well, governments in Belize are all-powerful, it appears. They don’t have to differentiate among those who occupy a premises, whether babies or grandparents, when they raid for drugs and guns and ammunition. And for sure they don’t have to differentiate among the Kremandala sections.

In conculsion, dear readers, we must emphasize that Kremandala’s professional employees are no fools. They are not politicized. They are highly trained, highly talented, and highly experienced workers who can think for themselves. Exhibit “A,” as we speak, is the “Morning Stew.” No one from the top puts ideas in the head or words in the mouth of The Stew. The Stew is sheer, intuitive Belizean brilliance. It is scintillating. There’s something going on at Partridge Street, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Sedi? It may not be patriotism, but it is sure as hell Belizean.

 Long live Belize!Power to the people!

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