For the 4th time since we got independence, in 1981, the Belizean people have been so frustrated with a sitting government that they went to the polls and gave the opposition party a landslide victory. In 1984 the opposition UDP whipped the incumbents, the PUP, 21 to 7; in 1998 the opposition PUP crushed the incumbents, the UDP, 26-3; in 2008 the opposition UDP demolished the incumbents, the PUP, 25 to 6; and in 2020 the opposition PUP thrashed the incumbents, the UDP, 26-5.
The winning party in the 2020 general election could argue that their victory is a result of a better vision and the superiority of their candidates, but the incumbents had to have fallen out of favour for the people to have abandoned them in so great numbers.
Incumbents getting blown out at the polls will happen on occasion, but there is a serious message in this happening in our country four times in only 36 years, over the course of 9 elections. Our leaders, of both major parties, really should try to do better, because these results clearly show that our people are extremely unhappy with their representation more than 40% of the time.
The 2020-2025 PUP won a landslide victory over the incumbents — as previously mentioned, the fourth time such a mandate has been given since we became an independent country, and it is to be hoped that the new administration lives up to the promise of independence, which was that it was to be “a new beginning.”
Interestingly, the margin of victory has little effect on the strength of a government’s mandate in Belize. Be it by one seat or 21 seats, the margin of victory is inconsequential because a key feature of our system is habitually undermined by the party that controls government. In a properly functioning Parliamentary Democracy, the number of members of the ruling party who don’t have portfolios added to the number of members of the opposition party (ies) in the House of Representatives, is always greater than the number of members who sit in Cabinet, but that is not the case in Belize.
Holding to what is traditional in our country, of the 31 area representatives in the recently installed 2020-2025 government, 16 are senior ministers.
It could be argued that our House of Representatives being top heavy with Cabinet ministers has more to do with the size of our body of reps, than the intention of our governments to undermine the system, because the number of parliamentarians has no bearing on the number of ministries in a government. Of 31 parliamentarians in Belize, 16 are senior members of Cabinet. Of 650 parliamentarians in the United Kingdom, 26 are senior members of Cabinet.
The power of the party in government is always near absolute with the Cabinet majority, but in one particular area a landslide victory also gives a government a special power in the House of Representatives. A government with a two-thirds majority can amend the Constitution; one with a three-quarters supermajority can even alter our fundamental rights.
Belize has amended the Constitution a number of times. Two instances of this are amendment No. 4 of 2010 that replaced the Privy Council as our final appellate court with the Caribbean Court of Justice, and the Belize Constitution 9th (Amendment) Bill 2011 that enshrined public ownership (51%) of the utilities (BTL, BEL, BWSL) in the hands of the people and Government of Belize.
Despite section 69 (1) of the Constitution seemingly being straightforward when it states that the “National Assembly may alter any of the provisions of this Constitution in the manner specified in the following provisions of this section”, some amendments to the Constitution are subject to the interpretation of the judicial arm of government. Many dedicated Belizean leaders have argued, especially as it relates to fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, that any proposed changes be put directly to the people in the form of a referendum.
The aim of the people in this election was to rid itself of a government that had gone rancid, and install a good one; however, because the incumbents had become so corrupt, their defeat was overwhelming, and we ended up with a government winning by a landslide for the 4th time in just 9 elections.
Taiwan can teach us
In one day, Belize, with a population of 375,000, recorded more deaths, 10, than the number that Taiwan, with a population of 24 million, has recorded since the pandemic began: 7. The numbers say that what they are doing over there is stratospherically superior to what we are doing in Belize.
Taiwan has had one of the best responses to the Coronavirus pandemic, if not the best, but it has not been allowed to share its excellent story with the world because of its exclusion from the World Health Organization. Taiwan is claimed by Mainland China, and for political reasons its participation in a number of organizations has been blocked.
World politics shouldn’t deter us from finding out how our friends do it, and copying them. Taiwan has been assisting Belize in a number of ways, especially in education and agriculture, and since the pandemic began they have donated a lot of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, and test kits.
We are not aware of Taiwan sharing with us its successful strategy to contain COVID-19, however. We have to believe that our authorities haven’t asked. It’s a basic lesson of the world. When you see excellence, try to emulate it. Taiwan is excellence.
A Safe and Happy Garifuna Settlement Day
Similar to what is taking place in the rest of the world, almost every activity or occasion in Belize is being held under a cloud since the pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 began.
This week we celebrate the arrival of the ancestors of the Garinagu, but with the cloud still heavy upon us, the activities have been curtailed. Earlier this month the National Garifuna Council wisely announced that several of the events they sponsored would be virtual, so most of us who would be making the annual trek to be up close to the drums and the singing, will be joining the regular shut-ins watching on television and listening in on the radio.
COVID-19 won’t be with us forever, but this year it is, so we must observe the safety measures. A happy and very safe Garifuna Settlement Day to all Belizeans, especially to our brothers and sisters whose ancestral roots go back to Yurumein.