BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 18, 2015–The inter-party squabbles in the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) in the wake of its municipal elections meltdown were brought to the forefront when former PUP leader, John Briceño, the Orange Walk Central area representative who is a deputy PUP leader, was recorded in a private conversation with two “trusted party members” about two weeks ago.
During that conversation, Briceño was critical of the absence of fiscal prudence during the two-term Said Musa-led PUP administrations. Briceño also told his listeners (two PUP supporters), that “millions and millions and millions and millions and millions” of dollars had been stolen from the public purse.
And if that was not enough image-battering for the vanquished PUP, this week, the former PUP Cayo North standard bearer, businessman Richard Harrison, who was selected to run in the January 5 by-election, in which he was thoroughly trounced by the UDP’s Dr. Omar Figueroa, was unsparing in criticizing his party’s leaders in an article captioned: “A Post-Election View From Under the Bus.”
Briceño, however, was conspicuously absent today, when the PUP National Party Council met to discuss “the way forward,” and its parliamentary caucus discussed budget debate presentations. Nonetheless, “everyone present” endorsed the leadership of Francis Fonseca, who was also criticized in Briceño’s recorded conversation.
The PUP’s national campaign manager Godfrey Smith, who briefed reporters on today’s strategy meeting, said, “John Briceño called in his regrets for not being able to make the meeting. In that discussion that we had this morning, it was resoundingly stated that John Briceño is a member of the party. He is embraced by the People’s United Party. He is an asset of the People’s United Party and he will help the People’s United Party to move forward in the next General Elections.”
The major news coming out of today’s meeting is that Party Leader Hon. Francis Fonseca received the support of the entire 38 PUP officials who were present, including standard bearers from all divisions, and members of the National Executive, who all agreed to endorse Fonseca as party leader at an endorsement convention that will be announced at a later date.
“In the first half of the meeting, the Party Leader, the Hon. Francis Fonseca, in essence, laid on the table the question of his leadership and the question of a leadership convention; he expressed his commitment and dedication in continuing forward, to lead the PUP to the next general election. But he would do so only if all members of the national executive, all standard bearers and the parliamentary caucus freely expressed their views on this position,” Smith stated.
“The floor was then open and every person in the room, essentially some 38 persons, comprising those 3 bodies, spoke and gave unanimous support for the leadership of Francis Fonseca, moving forward, with some of the views being expressed that there perhaps should be an endorsement convention, which will be held at some point in the future, to be determined by the PUP,” Smith went on to explain.
Smith indicated that today’s meeting is one in a series of strategic planning meetings — to chart the way forward for the next general elections.
Harrison’s criticism of the party, however, was treated dismissively when one reporter asked Smith to comment on it. As the brief question-and-answer session was coming to an end, the reporter asked whether the party had discussed the Richard Harrison article as a group.
Smith replied, “No, and we will not. And you want to hear why not? Because we are interested in conducting business. You really expect us to discuss every Facebook blog that appears?”
The questioner pressed on, however: “He was an insider. He was the candidate that you all put forward and he has a perspective that many of us out here don’t have ….”
“I am sorry,” Smith declared, cutting off the question, “we will not be distracted by those sorts of red herrings. The Party recognizes that it has a lot of deep and fundamental work to do, and that is just what we intend to do.”
In his article, Harrison castigated the PUP for abandoning him.
He writes: “Shortly after the by-election, while I was on personal business outside the country, I received message that the PUP leadership, with a handful of Cayo North people towing line, had moved to endorse Mr. Michel Chebat as standard bearer for Cayo North … effectively kicking me ‘under the bus’. This, after I had put my face, reputation, time, energy and resources for the party in such a challenging by-election. I had no knowledge that this would happen … This is how the current ‘endorsement champions’ of the party can be expected to treat anyone that it considers not to be a blind, loyal follower. This is the kind of rogue dictatorship, a party which voluntarily suspends its own constitution … Many people ask the fair question ‘if they cannot uphold their own party’s constitution while in Opposition, how can they be expected to uphold the national constitution while in government?’”
Harrison lamented that since the by-election, he had not met with the PUP leadership. He added, “The current PUP leadership seems hell bent on creating the party without a party … Treating party supporters like disposable diapers only chases them and their families and loyalists away… it does not inspire unity… and divided, we fall.”
The PUP have not held a national convention since 2010. Harrison’s take on that is that, “The only acceptable way forward is to recommit the entire party to its own Constitution and call conventions at all levels to allow party supporters to freely, fairly and democratically choose leaders of the party in every constituency and within all the official administrative bodies of the party.
“The excuse that it is too expensive and divisive to abide by the People’s United Party Constitution in its call for free, open and fair divisional and national conventions every two years [for party supporters to elect their leaders] has proven counterproductive and even disastrous … The cream have obviously not risen to the top … and even once-stalwart supporters from big-time PUP families have broken fence or are bolting …”