BELIZE CITY, Thurs, Nov. 12, 2020– The first Briceño administration began today when Governor-General Sir Colville Young swore in People’s United Party leader Juan Antonio “John” Briceño as Belize’s 5th Prime Minister in Belmopan.
Hon. Briceño, area representative of Orange Walk Central, will also become the first area rep of a constituency outside Belize City, the nation’s largest urban settlement, to lead one of the nation’s major parties to victory in a general election, and the fifth person to become Prime Minister of the country since Independence in 1981.
History will record that at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of this truly benighted year 2020, candidates, party members, party supporters and canvassers of the People’s United Party, who had been cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a victory in the 16th Belize General Elections 2020, began to feel cheerfully confident at the probability of victory as initial reports started to emerge that their voting pledges were coming out in waves, and votes began to pour in.
By 3:00 p.m., there was a feeling of elation as they learned that the rising tide might have been lifting all PUP 31 campaigns nationwide, and the possibility that it had become a flood was now turning into a probability.
The first sign of a likely disconnect for the heretofore incumbent United Democratic Party was when hired campaign staff turned up at their polling station assignment in Pickstock to find only a tent, no chairs, no desks, and no one to supervise them, even though the poll had opened on time at 7:00 and voters were pouring in.
By 9:00 a.m., media reports were indicating that, out on San Pedro, 3-time incumbent Manuel Heredia’s election day operation appeared to be “disorganized” and “confused”, according to observers and opponents alike, who described what they saw in on-air broadcast interviews.
Manuel Heredia had danced barefoot, as was the tradition of his political myth-making, on his way to nomination just a few weeks ago; perhaps, in retrospect, that was his political career’s death song he was dancing to, instead.
And by 11:00 a.m., reports that former 3-time Prime Minister and UDP party leader Dean Barrow’s handpicked successor Denise “Sista B” Barrow’s own canvassers were quietly reporting that she was in trouble in Queen’s Square, were sending seismic shockwaves through the political ecosystem.
Dean Barrow made a rare visit to his former constituency to raise flagging spirits, seemingly as a result.
Barrow had won that now signature constituency in eight consecutive general elections dating back to 1984, the last three times with an average of 75% of the votes cast.
Following the normal noonday lull, some observers marveled that there was no big last-minute rush of voters at most polling stations and instead, a festive, euphoric spirit had begun to seize PUP field workers, while UDP canvassers and campaigners had started to disrobe and shed their partisan signature shirts and strip their vehicles of their candidates’ and campaign’s red posters.
Almost all polls were able to close promptly at the appointed hour of 6:00 p.m., as there were virtually no lines of waiting electors; almost all who had wanted to exercise their franchise had already done so in steady and determined lines that had swollen much earlier in the day, but gradually diminished to the merest trickle by late afternoon.
Within an hour after the closing of the polls, results of some reconciliation confirmed that it would be a PUP victory, and shortly thereafter, media reports were replete with lopsided counts, even in formerly safe UDP seats.
By 8:30 p.m., UDP party leader Patrick Faber was airing a speech conceding the election, something that had not been done so early in recent memory. From that moment onward, there has been nothing but jubilation among the ranks of the PUP.
This afternoon, a joyful motorcade of People’s United Party (PUP) general election winners and their fervent supporters made its way through the city, passing along Central American Boulevard, in celebration of the party’s 26-5 sound thrashing of the previous government, the United Democratic Party (UDP) .
Naturally, there was the customary blaring of vehicle horns and shouts of “PUP!”
This PUP victory will long be remembered, not simply because of the number of seats won, but even more notably (in light of the statistics that have now been released by the Elections and Boundaries Commission), because of the manner in which they were won.
PUP supporters are, of course, ecstatic – they blew out the incumbent UDP by an undreamed-of margin of victory. The reason, or reasons, for the victory will be debated for a long time. The COVID-19 pandemic played a major role, of course, but so did terrible UDP corruption in high places.
Some political analysts say that it was the despised and controversial Equal Opportunities Bill (EOB) that sealed their doom. Probably, all three causes played a role.
Whatever the reason, the UDP came close to being wiped out.
The big losers appear to be, in no particular order, Dianne “Miss D” Finnegan, wife of former Mesopotamia political boss, Michael Finnegan, who went up against PUP powerhouse Cordel Hyde in the Lake Independence constituency. She lost miserably, an astounding 3,539 to 359 thrashing. Her loss was perhaps the worst the UDP suffered yesterday.
The PUP’s Anthony Mahler schooled Anthony “Uncle Boots” Martinez, who gave up his Port Loyola constituency, in which he appeared invincible, to contest the Pickstock division, formerly held by Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington. Uncle Boots just managed to attract 574 votes, in contrast with Mahler’s 2,570 votes.
Dolores Balderamos Garcia handed the UDP’s Beverly Williams a convincing beating – 3,409 to 2,166, a discrepancy of over a thousand votes.
For the first time, election day had been declared a holiday, and despite the nation battling both a viral pandemic and flooding that resulted from a tropical system that had passed offshore just a week before, 80% of the electorate turned out, turned up and determinedly and decisively voted the nearly 13-year, 3-term Barrow administration right out of office.
New Prime Minister John Briceño had reportedly already selected an initial Cabinet based on their internal projections of winning 17 – 20 seats. Speculation is that he will move swiftly to install the executive of his political administration, and job one is assuring themselves of the state of the government’s fiscal health, because it is evident that the nation’s economy has been battered by the disruptive impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, with an estimated 15-20% decrease in GDP for 2020.
The 26-5 House of Representatives’ majority will give the new administration the green light to pursue several manifesto reforms, including promises to improve governance, particularly in the areas of electoral reform, such as an elected Senate, and measures to improve transparency and accountability.
The lopsided victory is among the top such election results since Independence, taking its place in that glorious or ignominious hierarchy of 1984: 21-7, 1998: 26-3, and 2008: 25-6.