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Let the tournament begin …

EditorialLet the tournament begin …

As the annual September 10 (1958) national day celebrations rolled around, the obsessive Price conceived the idea of promoting a Miss Belize beauty pageant to rival the Queen of the Bay pageant promoted by the pro-British Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Baymen. He then engaged in a flurry of exchange of letters with Governor Thornley. His objective was to get the Governor to attend the Miss Belize pageant instead of the Queen of the Bay. Thornley replied that he was already committed to attending the traditional pageant and that in any event as Her Majesty’s representative he could not very well attend such a pageant unless it was named the Miss British Honduras pageant since Belize was not the name of the country. Price cynically volunteered to resolve the Governor’s conflicting schedules by delaying his party’s ceremony to allow the Governor time to attend that of the L&POB. The Governor declined, noting that the PUP’s programme of events did not feature the traditional loyalty address to the Governor nor was there any reference to the Baymen or British Honduras. Price retorted that prior to being called British Honduras, the country had been referred to as the Settlement of Belize in the Bay of Honduras and that on its national day a country should receive love and loyalty from its friends, not give loyalty addresses to others. Thornley naturally would not be persuaded. The episode ushered in the yearly staging of two beauty pageants. Miss Belize was perceived as a PUP event while the Queen of the Bay was regarded as a pro-British event.

– pg. 153, GEORGE PRICE: A LIFE REVEALED, by Godfrey P. Smith, Ian Randle Publishers, 2011

We would say the political tournament which involves next March’s national municipal elections is beginning, especially in the old capital. For some years now, August has been bleeding into September where the celebrations are concerned. What the patriotic aspect of the celebrations does is emphasize the differences between the two core Southside populations, which are the Afro-Saxons and the roots, if you will allow us to use these designations.

As was exposed last week when an unofficial section of the Belizean population had to hold events (their fourth annual) to mark Emancipation Day – August 1, Belize is an anomaly in the British Caribbean scheme of things, because we never celebrated Emancipation Day, the original such British Caribbean celebration being August 1, 1838. What official Belize did, after opting for British colonial status in 1862 and then Crown Colony status in 1871, was organize an event in 1898 originally known as Centenary – the 100th anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Caye. Centenary defined the September celebrations for the first half of the twentieth century here, and it featured the alliance between the British administration and Belize’s Afro-Saxons.

In the latter part of the 1950s, the then ruling People’s United Party (PUP), basically supported on the Southside by the roots section of the population which had always been denied official recognition of, and celebration opportunities for, Emancipation Day, sought to emphasize the nationalistic aspects of the official September celebrations as opposed to the Baymen Centenary narrative. The Afro-Saxon element reacted with great indignation, partly because this PUP anti-Centenary initiative began around the same time when an aggressive Guatemalan president, Ydigoras Fuentes, elected in 1958, was talking crazy about “recovering” Belize for Guatemala. The Afro-Saxons, we would say, won that debate, in the sense of defending Centenary, partly because roots Belizeans were ambivalent about the new PUP National Day on September 10. Roots Belizeans enjoyed the Centenary celebrations for celebration’s sake, in the first instance, and, in the second instance, there was an anti-black undercurrent in the Guatemalan claim, as pushed by Fuentes, which disturbed them.

With the arrival of political independence in 1981, the September celebrations began taking on a bacchanalia and debauchery finish, so the argument between the pro-Baymen Afro-Saxons and the radical roots rebels moved from front and center. With national municipal elections due in seven months’ time, however, and these being the first serious elections here in more than two years, August/September 2017 essentially marks the beginning of this political tournament.

As incumbents, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) would have to be favored for next March’s elections overall, because they have a lot of money. This is usually the case with ruling parties in Belize, because the ruling party directs all the public contracts to those individuals and groups which understand that they should donate to the party treasury in order to express their gratitude for the party’s kindness.

Money seriously affects elections in Belize, but money does not decide elections in Belize. The most notable example of the Belizean electorate going against the big money took place in June of 1993 when the cash-flush PUP was shocked by the UDP. Yes, Belizean voters at the base accept money from the parties on election day, and in fact many of the voters solicit said money, but the UDP’s money will not decide March 2018.

This is not a subject we will elaborate on in this essay. All we want to say here is that the August/September celebrations begin this tournament, because after this the Christmas partying is right around the corner in December, and then suddenly March is all over us.

We have a special love for the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), because BPP Leader, Patrick Rogers, grew up as our neighbor at the corner of Partridge and Vernon Streets. Not only that, when he became of age Patrick Rogers financially supported our Raiders’ basketball team through his Computech business firm. In addition, this newspaper shares many of Patrick’s views and, of course, we admire this gentleman’s superb analytical intellect.

As a small third party, however, the BPP is victimized by Belize’s first-past-the-post electoral system and by its own arithmetical history. The BPP was unable to get 3 percent of the vote in the November 2015 general election. In a proportional representation system, 3 percent plays a role in national decision making, as we can see from the histories of those nations which have installed such a system. First-past-the-post, however, only has space for the big boys: it is not as democratic, in the sense of people power, as proportional representation is.

This newspaper is a voice crying in the wilderness, because none of the two major parties, upon being elected to office, would ever voluntarily choose to change first-past-the-post to proportional representation. Once you are in power, first-past-the-post is too sweet and it is oh so secure. You don’t have to worry about the people for five round years.

The decision of the Prime Minister, Right Hon. Dean O. Barrow, to postpone once again the long overdue re-registration of voters until after next March’s national municipals, exposes just how critical these elections are for him. A defeat would break the UDP’s much-ballyhooed 14-year winning streak and soil the Right Honorable’s legacy. It is interesting to note that all three previous Prime Ministers in Belize exited the stage with a defeat – Mr. Price in 1993, Mr. Esquivel in 1998, and Mr. Musa in 2008.

The UDP will fight tooth and nail. There are fat cats around the P.M. who have gotten used to living high on the hog. The problem for the UDP is that sometimes the Belizean electorate begins to speculate that any change is better than no change at all. Let the tournament begin …

Power to the people.

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