Editorial — 02 September 2010
There is an institutional arrogance in the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) which is not justified by the election results of the post-independence era. Since 1984, there have been six general elections. The PUP have won three, and the United Democratic Party (UDP) have won three. Since 2006, in fact, the PUP have lost a bunch of elections, but it appears the memories of the 1954 to 1979 electoral era, when the party was well nigh invincible, are what fuel some of the unrealistic analyses and rhetoric which have characterized the PUP in the third millennium.
In its glory days from 1954 to 1979, the PUP were always and clearly the roots party, while the Opposition National Party, National Independence Party and United Democratic Party were all, by comparison, elitist. In fact, until 1957 the PUP were always in electoral coalition with the dominant trade union of the time – the General Workers Union (GWU). In the Belize of 2010, “roots” is just a flavor in certain PUP constituencies. There are many UDP constituencies where the leadership is more roots than the PUP counterpart.
Why it is that certain elements in the PUP inner circle continue to behave as if the masses of the Belizean people are not conscious of the essential change in philosophy which has taken place in the PUP since foundation, suggests the institutional arrogance of which we speak. This is 2010, Jack, not the 1960’s. Belize today has thousands and thousands of university graduates, radio stations all over the place, and both national and district television stations. In the 1960’s, the ruling PUP politicians had blinders on the eyes of a comparatively innocent people. That was a messianic era. In 2010, Belizeans no longer long for sacred cows. There was an enlightening process here akin to the discovery of mad cow disease. Check the stats.
Now there is a fundamental aspect of our political system which may contribute to the ignorance, or the assumed ignorance, of some PUP spokesmen. And that fundamental aspect is the single member electoral system, which is the antithesis of the system of proportional representation. In a system like Italy’s or Israel’s, where there is proportional representation, there are multiple parties. When the voting is over, there are big political parties and small political parties which get some of the vote. So then, the leaders of various parties get together and negotiate, building a consensus for a government which will have a majority vote. In fact, we saw a version of this take place recently in the United Kingdom, the originator of the single member electoral system, when a third political party, the Liberal Democrats, became so important, and electorally so, that the party with the most votes, the Conservatives, had to cut a deal with the Lib Dems to form a government.
In Belize’s two-party political system, what takes place after the election under proportional representation, takes place before the election in the single-member system. Inside the two mass parties, the UDP and the PUP, there are all kinds of factions and interest groups which ordinarily have issues with each other. Both the UDP and the PUP have supporters who are hard core capitalist freaks, while both of them have factions which are populist and socialist and so on and so forth. Both the UDP and the PUP have every kind of religion, every kind of race, and every kind of philosophy within their respective folds. The various factions and interest groups work out their differences before the campaign. The concept of a monolithic PUP was always a myth, but forty and fifty years ago the leadership was so strong and the sources of political education so non-existent that the dream of a seamless and totally unified PUP was easily sold.
The final push to political independence, from March to September of 1981, marked a turning point for the PUP. We can see that in retrospect. The PUP became a party of cronies and insiders which had lost the support of the Belizean masses. That is why independence for Belize had to be “celebrated” under a state of emergency. Those were staged and bogus celebrations, enjoyed by euphoric PUP cronies and insiders (and, never forget, their foreign guests) who were about to accumulate more constitutional power than the natives had possessed since the settlement of Belize became a colony in 1862. The general election results of 1984, an overwhelming rejection of the PUP, constituted the Belizean people’s revenge for those staged and bogus celebrations of September 1981. In fact, as early as December of 1981, just three months after independence, the Belizean people were rejecting the PUP in nationwide municipal elections.
After independence, the PUP’s institutional arrogance was total: they were gods walking on earth. It took the electoral destruction of December 1984 to bring some people down from Mount Olympus. The extreme left, Shoman, and the extreme right, Sylvestre, departed. There was reconstruction work done on the party which led to the miracle victory of 1989, the closest general elections in Belizean history. But when the blue’s institutional arrogance began to sprout again four years later, they paid the price. A feeble and desperate UDP defeated the PUP in 1993.
The ray of hope for the Opposition, it appears to us, is the new constitution which re-opens the PUP to the people. At their national convention next month, the party will enlarge its convention voting base by some four hundred percent. There will be constituency delegates for every 25 PUP voters (as counted by general election turnout), as opposed to the previous one delegate for every 100 PUP voters. This is a move of massive significance. It will “democratize” the PUP in a way it has not been since 1956. On the convention floor in Dangriga, the PUP will begin the makeover process which should have begun after 1984. It’s 26 years late, but, as they say, better late than never.