The original, anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP), established in September of 1950, was overwhelmingly popular in British Honduras. The PUP represented a coalition of interests which included the interests of the colony’s most powerful native business magnate, Robert Sydney Turton; the General Workers Union (GWU), led by Clifford Betson and Harry Middleton; and the German/Irish clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.
Belize’s ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) is the only major political party formed after Belize attained self-government in 1964. The pro-business UDP was organized in September of 1973. If we were to look for the UDP equivalents of the PUP’s Turton (business), GWU (roots), and religion (German/Irish Catholic clergy), we would say Santiago Castillo/Ismael Gomez (business); the National Independence Party (NIP) base (roots); and the core of the Anglican/Methodist Churches (religion).
After Mr. Turton’s death in 1955, his huge estate was embroiled in legal battles. We would say that the Roman Catholic Church, which had become or was about to become the leader in primary and secondary education in Belize, became the key element in the PUP under the leadership of the Right Hon. George Price. (The GWU was forced out of PUP leadership after 1957.)
In the case of the UDP, their NIP roots base soon began to decline in party importance, while their Catholic business faction grew in strength.
The UDP has now taken over the Southside of Belize City as their stronghold. One reason for this is that the second generation of Northside PUP leadership which pushed out Mr. Price a quarter century ago, became caught up in the euphoria of free trade, globalization, and privatization which followed the fall of Russian communism in 1991, and that second generation Northside PUP leadership embraced neoliberalism too eagerly.
The national municipal elections in Belize five weeks from now will give political observers a sense of how the Belizean electorate reacts to the 2018 PUP’s moves to return to Price-style social justice. Things are a bit more tricky for the PUP today, because their attempt to recover the party’s social justice thinking is, so far, only rhetorical: the PUP has not been in national power for ten years. From its establishment in 1950, the PUP seemed to be all about social justice, and they won election after election for three decades with social justice as their mantra.
The two major political parties are the two most important building blocks of Belize’s parliamentary democracy, because they are national organizations which consult periodically in order to establish consensus, after which they broadcast party positions on critical issues.
In the case of a ruling party, the most effective instrument of democracy is Cabinet, which normally meets every Tuesday in Belmopan under the chairmanship of the Hon. Prime Minister. Theoretically, Cabinet makes decisions which are in the best interests of the Belizean people. It would not be logistically possible for the masses of the Belizean people to meet every Tuesday, so Cabinet meets for and on behalf of the Belizean people, in pursuance of the philosophical ideal of democracy – the rule of the people.
Belize’s democracy is unique in this region because the leading newspaper has proven over several decades that it is not controlled by any of the two major political parties and that it cannot be dictated to by the oligarchic elements which dominate the Belizean economy. The most significant aspect of Amandala, which has been the leading newspaper in Belize since 1981, is the editorial. The ideas and opinions presented in the newspaper’s editorials have achieved a level of credibility where they are seldom challenged publicly. Amandala editorials have established a tradition of sound thought, independence, and authentic nationalism.
Belize has been experiencing major problems with our democracy since late 2013 and the Citizen Kim/Elvin Penner matter. The recent Senate inquiry into the Immigration Department suggests that corruption rot in that area of government had set in before the UDP was awarded a second term in office in March of 2012, while all indications are that the Lands Department and the Ministry of National Resources were “hot beds of corruption” from the day this version of the UDP first took office in February of 2008. The “major problems” with our democracy involve what appear to be repeated instances of interference with the judiciary of Belize by the executive of Belize, which has swallowed up the legislature in every government since the Ministerial/Cabinet system was introduced in 1961.
The UDP of Prime Minister, Right Hon, Dean Barrow, was elected to office in February of 2008 on a highly publicized anti-corruption platform. There were the usual honeymoon years which followed the supposedly honest UDP’s coming to 2008 power. The UDP’s free run was facilitated by the 2009-2011 power struggle inside the Opposition PUP, which featured the refusal of the Musa/Fonseca faction to accept the first leadership convention victory of Orange Walk’s John Briceño.
With the PUP consistently unable to confront the ruling UDP, except for the PUP’s near victory in the March 2012 general election, the teachers of Belize were forced to come to the rescue of our nation-state in October of 2016. The patriotic courage of the teachers inspired the rest of us Belizeans to take stock of ourselves as citizens.
It is sad and sick what has happened to the UDP in government, but we Belizeans had just seen the same thing happen with the PUP. The Cabinet power inside Belize’s parliamentary democracy is excessive. The Cabinet is not supposed to include a majority of the area representatives in the House of Representatives. Parliamentary democracy was designed to have a majority of backbenchers, which is to say, non-Cabinet members in the House with the numerical voting power to send Cabinet papers back to Cabinet. Instead, ever since 1961, the Cabinet is absolute master over the House, and what that means is that the Prime Minister, who controls the Cabinet appointments as Leader of the ruling party, is king. The Prime Minister is monarchical. The concept is a raging contradiction in what is advertised as a parliamentary democracy. The vanity of the present Prime Minister has gotten him into mess after mess.
Amandala did not take lightly our decision to endorse the Opposition PUP in next month’s national municipals. The last time we openly supported a political campaign was the PUP’s for the March 2003 general election. By April of 2004, however, this newspaper was in confrontation with the ruling PUP, which we had helped re-elect in March of 2003. There was no need for anyone to endorse the UDP in February of 2008: the PUP had essentially self-destructed in 2004.
When universal adult suffrage was introduced in colonial British Honduras in 1954, it was a really big deal. The concept of “one man, one vote” was sacred for the Belizean people in 1954. Somewhere along the way, things went wrong. Today, too many Belizeans view their vote as a ticket to a handout. As a people, we do not believe in the power of our ballot. Or, let’s put it another way. It is only on rare occasions when we Belizeans view going to the polls as a crusade. That is how we viewed August of 1998 and that is how we viewed February of 2008.
Well, at this newspaper, we think March 2018 is a crusade. We feel that there was a sinister attempt by this Dean Barrow government to jeopardize Kremandala’s 49 years of work. Though our attitude represents a quantum of self-interest, the October 2016 heroism of the Belizean teachers provides evidence for us that other intelligent Belizeans have seen what we have been seeing. The nature of our system of governance provides opportunity and temptation for corruption. Our system is dangerously flawed. When our system becomes unbearable and worthy of destruction is when it brazenly creates cover for corruption and coddles corruption. On February 1, 2018, we can declare categorically that this UDP administration is in bed with corruption. They have to go.
Power to the people.