The teachers of Belize came from all over the nation on Tuesday morning to march in Belmopan and show their strength. As we pointed out in an editorial on Tuesday (reproduced in this issue), we have a constitutional crisis in Belize. Theoretically, the Government of Belize (specifically the Prime Minister) has de facto absolute power, but the disciplined power of the teachers is real, and it is too easy for things to get out of hand if a situation like the present one reaches as far as a strike.
In March of last year the ruling UDP were returned to office by a narrow margin in seats, 17-14. The Opposition PUP were very frustrated, because of the closeness of the defeat and other circumstances we will not discuss at length here. The teachers did a remarkable job on Tuesday, because there was no evidence of significant PUP infiltration of their demonstration.
It is not a comfortable situation the Barrow administration is in, because the teachers can go back to Belmopan after soliciting more support from their fellow unions, and after creating space for the Opposition to be involved. If the teachers decide they have to go back to Belmopan, the constitution of Belize allows the Prime Minister to use the security forces if a larger, more militant crowd misbehaves in any way.
Belizeans, we don’t need this kind of gamesmanship and bluff poker. In reality, once the teachers commit to a position which is absolutely hostile to the administration, it means that the government essentially becomes a minority government. In a proportional representation constitution, the government would have to resign and there would be a realignment of the multiple political parties, whereupon a new government would be formed. Under the present constitution, things become confrontational too quickly.
Belizeans, we are bigger than the present constitution. We are tired of these poco tiempo politicians repeatedly becoming swell-headed Cabinet Ministers and behaving like Caesars. So many of these people were insignificant in civilian life until they hitched a ride on a political party train. This is irritating to professionals like the teachers, who are highly educated and intelligent. Belize’s constitutional system elevates mediocrity and mandates that quality people have to go marching.
Going forward now, we will see the government meet the teachers’ union in financial negotiations on Friday in Belmopan. It would suit the government for Belizeans who are not teachers to begin turning against the teachers. This can only happen if the negotiations become drawn out, because people will begin to grumble if teachers have to leave the classroom again and force parents to hire babysitters. A strike, for its part, would definitely be bad news.
We hope the negotiations go well and reach a speedy conclusion. The Opposition prefers otherwise, because they hope they can bring down the government. It has never happened before. The constitution of Belize gives elected governments too much power and for too long. Belizeans, we are bigger than this. We have reached a point where we are skeptical of all politicians here, and we have thrown them all into the same crocus bag – PUDP.
In a system of proportional representation, the unions could have their own labor party, and change governments whenever they feel like. So, tell us, what’s wrong with weak governments which the people can change when we feel like? All these years, they have told us that we need strong governments. In these modern days, strong governments with bogus and corrupted PUDP politicians do not intimidate the Belizean people. We have come of age, and the constitution must follow suit. The sooner, the better.