In 1996, the bombing of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) by the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) in Belize City Council elections, followed by a bombing of the UDP in 1997 Town Board elections by the PUP, set the stage for the PUP’s landslide victory over the UDP in the 1998 general elections. Following the 1997 Town Boards, the UDP had embarked on a frantic re-registration process in the summer of 1997, the first such re-registration since the 18-year-old vote had been introduced in 1978, but it was of no use. The stage had been set in 1996 and 1997.
In 2006, the bombing of the ruling PUP by the Opposition UDP in national municipal elections (Belize CitCo plus District Town Boards) set the stage for the UDP”s landslide victory over the PUP in the 2008 general elections. After 2006, the UDP general election victory of 2008 was a foregone conclusion.
On Wednesday, March 4, 2015, the ruling UDP’s shelling of the Opposition PUP in national municipal elections reverses the post-independence political trend, in that the only second-term administration since independence (before this Dean Barrow UDP), had quickly begun losing popularity in their second term. That was the PUP’s Said Musa government, which easily won a second term in 2003, but lost massive amounts of popularity after the Social Security Board and Development Finance Corporation financial scandals of 2004.
In the UDP’s first “second term” (they won general elections in1984 and 1998, but lost second-term bids in 1989 and 1998), the results of the March 4 national municipals showed an increase in UDP popularity countrywide, and a corresponding drop in PUP voter support.
The UDP had won huge national municipal victories in 2006 and 2009, with 58% and 61% of the vote, respectively, but in the combined general and municipal elections of 2012, the UDP had won only 53% of the national municipal vote, and had come within 75 votes of losing a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives. On March 4 this year of 2015, the UDP statistically retuned to its 2006 popularity by winning 59% of the national municipal vote.
The reeling PUP have said that they did not have money to campaign with for the January 2015 bye-election in Cayo North and the March municipals, but they have sworn that they will have campaign finances whenever Prime Minister Dean Barrow chooses to call the next general elections, scheduled to be held by March 2017. Well, the PUP’s Cordel Hyde did not have campaign financing in Lake Independence, so why did the Lake I voters behave so differently from the Collet and Port Loyola voters? These three Southside constituencies are very similar, and in fact contiguous, but on March 4 Lake I voters went PUP while Collet and Port Loyola voters went hard core red.
The landscape in Belize’s electoral politics has changed. The proliferation in radio and television media systems, and the influence of American cable television have contributed to an increased sophistication and cynicism amongst Belizean voters. There are no real issues in Belizean politics any more, except personality. In the 1960s, Guatemala was the gut issue; in the 1970s the big issue became socialism/communism. Following independence in 1981 and Belize’s first change of government in 1984, then the naked introduction of dollar politics in the 1993 general election, the difference between the two major political parties has become blurred in the eyes of Belizean voters.
With the introduction of the Ministerial constitution in 1961, the PUP of the Rt. Hon. George Price proceeded to win five consecutive general elections – 1961, 1965, 1969, 1974, and 1979. The margins of PUP victory, however, declined with each new general election. Remember, the Belizean media was primitive in those times: there was one radio station – a government monopoly, and no television. The 18-year-old vote was not introduced until 1978.
In the post-independence era, by contrast, no political party won a second term until the PUP did so in 2003. The UDP finally won a second term in 2012, just barely, and now they dream of a third term. Following March 4, the stage looks set, but Lord Michael Ashcroft, who will shortly be making his third visit to Belize in the last few weeks, has already indicated that he will involve some of his billions in the next general election. The Barrow Government of Belize owes the Lord of Chichester for his BTL shares, has owed him for almost five years, and is offering him far less than he is claiming. There are some seven or eight hundred million dollars which are involved here. Ashcroft has been singing in any listening Belizean ear that the BTL money is not for him, but for a charitable trust to benefit the BTL workers. That makes for a very good story, but it begs the question: when did the Lord become Mother Teresa?
Some powerful someone, or mayhap some powerful group of “someones,” absolutely insisted that the PUP leadership hold together after the massive double traumas of last Wednesday’s municipals and this Tuesday’s Johnny Briceño tape. There is a snapshot which will remain in the mind’s eye of the Belizean people for a very long time. On Wednesday evening on national television, two past PUP Leaders flanked the present PUP Leader, Hon. Francis Fonseca. The former PUP Leader on Fonseca’s left, on national television, to repeat, accuses the former PUP Leader on Fonseca’s right, of lying. Wow! The Belizean people have a sense that politicians are capable of doing, and accepting, many things which ordinary citizens might not do, on the one hand, or might violently reject, on the other, but this Wednesday evening’s vignette was classic, maybe even crazy.
There is a point in some sporting events, and we will choose cycling, with the Holy Saturday Crosscountry just weeks away, when the competitors catch a glimpse of the finish line. At such a point, all bets are off, as we would say. The UDP and the PUP have now gotten a glimpse of the next general election finish line. Crazy things will happen between now and election day. Already, Lord Ashcroft is practically begging to sit down with the leaders of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). Can you believe? Believe.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.