The fact that the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) added two Town Councils (Dangriga and Punta Gorda) to their March 2012 total of six (the UDP now control eight of the nation’s nine municipal bodies) in Wednesday’s national municipal elections, means that Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow will be tempted to call early general elections in quest of an unprecedented third term, unprecedented, that is, in Belize’s post-independence era. (The UDP do not have to call general elections until March of 2017.)
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), when they present themselves in the House of Representatives for the budget debate in mid-March, will likely continue their call for early general elections. If that call sounded a bit hollow following the PUP’s resounding defeat in the January 5 Cayo North bye-election, it will sound more so after their March 4 backsliding.
The PUP are now effectively down to 12 seats in the House, from their high of 14 following the March 2012 generals. Their Joseph Mahmoud’s Cayo North seat is now held by the UDP’s Dr. Amin Figueroa, and we do not expect the PUP’s Orange Walk East area representative, the embattled and indicted Dr. Marco Tulio Mendez, to show up in the House until he absolutely must in order to avoid his seat being declared vacant. Remember, he has been seen on national television running away from the Belizean media.
The UDP performance on Wednesday in the Northern sugar cane Districts of Corozal and Orange Walk was unexpected, we would say. The UDP retained Corozal Town and cut the PUP’s victory margin in Orange Walk Town (one of the three municipalities the PUP won in 2012), the blue’s only Town Council victory on Wednesday. The PUP had been predicting that the UDP government‘s recent dismantling of the roots Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and the UDP’s open support of the corporate BSI/ASR in the December 2014/January 2015 cane industry wrangling would cost the UDP on Wednesday. It did not. It is true that the vast majority of cane farmers live in the village areas of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, and therefore do not participate in municipal elections. The point is, however, that the leadership of the PUP predicted wrong, something they have been doing a lot of lately.
In the Southern Districts of Stann Creek and Toledo, an overconfident PUP Southern Caucus had emerged for the first time ever, under the leadership of Toledo East area representative and PUP Deputy Leader, Hon. Mike Espat. The PUP had won all four seats in the South in the March 2012 general elections – in addition to Espat, Hon. Oscar Requeña (Toledo West); Hon. Ivan Ramos (Dangriga); and Hon. Rodwell Ferguson (Stann Creek West). Following Wednesday’s loss of the Punta Gorda and Dangriga Town Councils, the PUP’s Southern Caucus may now well become a case of every man for himself, and God for them all.
In the West, the UDP triumph in the Belmopan City Council election represents a major personal victory for Belmopan area representative and Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, and another personal setback (following January 5) for Cayo South area rep and PUP Deputy Leader, Hon. Julius Espat. Belmopan was an intriguing battleground where three political parties (UDP, PUP, and Vision Inspired by the People –VIP) offered full slates, mayor cum councilors, while two independent mayoral candidates raised the total of mayoral candidates to an unprecedented five in one municipality.
Preliminary reports indicate that the UDP made inroads in the Central American-dominated areas around Belmopan proper. One will need to examine the final figures closely to try to understand all that was happening Wednesday in Belmopan with voting patterns. It was expected that the militant Christian vote would have hurt the UDP, but if the Cristeros caused the red a problem, it was not a big enough problem to help the PUP. Again, we will want to see how the third party VIP vote went in Belmopan. For sure the VIP role in San Pedro Ambergris Caye, the VIP’s other targeted municipality, was a non-factor.
In Southside Belize City, the three newcomer PUP standard bearers – Yasmine Shoman in Collet; Dorla Vaughan in Mesopotamia; and Paul Thompson in Albert, were swept away by the UDP’s Southside tsunami. In Lake Independence, the PUP’s returned Cordel Hyde held his ground.
On the Northside, preliminary indications are that the PUP lost some ground to the UDP. The most interesting development was that the UDP mayoral candidate, incumbent Darrell Bradley, actually defeated the PUP’s Yolanda Schakron in the Freetown constituency of PUP Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca. (PUP councilor candidates won in Freetown.)
After Wednesday’s carnage, all Mr. Fonseca has to show as leadership credentials is still the PUP’s surprisingly impressive performance, especially in the rural areas, in the March 2012 general elections. After Wednesday, this newspaper is now more inclined to defend our hypothesis that the boss of Belize’s national radio monopoly, Rene Villanueva, Sr. of LOVE FM, under the influence of Francis Gegg, may have been playing a PUP game in 2012. A former public officer who became a media multimillionaire because both the PUP and the UDP were positive that he was subservient, and therefore harmless, Villanueva controls a radio signal, engineered in the first instance by the Peace Corps electronics genius, Mike Gundy, which penetrates some rural areas where there is no competing signal. Remember, when Radio Belize was divested after the 1998 general election, Villanueva and LOVE were gifted with the major part of the RB goodies, especially the giant 88.9 FM transmitter.
There was a time when the Rt. Honorable George Price began to introduce “guided democracy” into the PUP. When the PUP masses went to any kind of convention, the party’s rank-and-file were instructed on whom and what to endorse. They accepted these instructions because their faith in Mr. Price was absolute. This guided democracy was not a problem as long as Mr. Price was in charge of the PUP. But when he was pushed out in 1996, the new regime soon began to abuse the guided democracy. They got away with this because Mr. Price lived until 2011, and his loyalty to the PUP was such that he allowed his iconic reputation to be used as cover for non-democratic processes.
The PUP have been making major decisions behind closed doors for years now. It may be that the party needs to involve the people more in their decision-making activities. We’re just saying. After Wednesday, more things look “broke” in the PUP, and in need of repair. Thing is, cold cash repairs a lot of things. Lord Ashcroft cruised in on his yacht last week and tempted the PUP with his financial possibilities. But, he never delivered. Mayhap, he wants control, or more control, of the grand old party.
Whatever, whatever, from here on in everything will get more and more interesting until The Big One.