In the last few hours before polls open on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, five political parties and associations are working hard to convince 178,054 registered electors—among them 97,979 registered to also vote in simultaneous municipal elections—to cast “x’s” in their favor, as 170 municipal candidates and 75 general election candidates try to make it down the last stretch of the mile in this year’s electoral race.
Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca is apparently extremely busy trying not only to retain his seat in Freetown, where he won last time by a slim margin of under 20 votes, but also to usher his party into an election win. Amandala tried to secure an interview with Fonseca today but we got no response to our phone calls and text messages. Our attempts to reach him through the PUP’s Communications Director Lisa Shoman were also futile.
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), as well as the third parties and independent candidates, are deemed to be at a considerable disadvantage, since the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) called elections a year early, to coincide with this year’s municipal elections.
In the municipal elections, both mass parties have full slates – a mayoral candidate supported by 10 councilor candidates in Belize City and a mayoral candidate and six councilor candidates in the remaining 8 municipalities.
The towns of Corozal, Orange Walk, San Ignacio/Santa Elena, and Dangriga have a straight UDP-PUP face-off; but the independents are challenging them in the remaining five municipalities.
There seems to be an interesting contest for the seat of mayor. Belize City and Belmopan have five mayoral candidates, Benque has four, and San Pedro and Punta Gorda have three. There are a total of 13 independent candidates in the municipal race and a total of 5 parties, including Association Benqueña far out west.
The general election race for 31 seats includes 6 independent candidates, 4 from Vision Inspired by the People, primarily in the Belize District, and 3 in Stann Creek and Toledo from the People’s National Party. The PUP and UDP will go unchallenged in 19 electoral divisions, most of them in places like Belize City, Cayo and Orange Walk.
The third parties and independents, many of whom come under the banner of the Belize Unity Alliance (BUA), are focusing heavily in the South, where BUA leader Robert Lopez said candidates like the PNP’s Wil Maheia, may yield good results.
Political analysts have said that the economic challenges looming over Central Government have been the trigger for early elections, but speaking with Amandala today, Prime Minister and UDP leader Dean Barrow disagreed with statements made by Fonseca in a Caribbean Journal interview published today, that the economy is the biggest factor in these elections.
Barrow said that quality of life is really the main concern and the UDP has done more than enough on that front to secure a win in the elections.
Barrow told our newspaper that he expects the UDP to do much better in Belize City than it did in the last election in 2008, but he was not so confident about the south of the country.
Asked particularly about Toledo, he said that they came into government on a tide of expectations, and admittedly, they have not been able to deliver on all of them, so he does expect some slippage in the south, more so in Toledo West than in Toledo East. Still, though, Barrow is claiming a victory for both Toledo constituencies.
He is also calling a win for Lake I, which recently suffered the loss of two-time PUP area representative Cordel Hyde. The PUP tried to replace Hyde with Yolanda Schakron, but she was rejected because she held US citizenship, one of the disqualifying factors for serving in Belize’s Parliament. Former PUP Lake I area rep Carlos Diaz threw his hat in the Lake I race to avoid an automatic win by the UDP’s Mark King. Barrow told us today that given the recent chain of events, Lake I will be a sure win for the UDP.
He also told us, in reference to the Freetown division, of which Francis Fonseca, Opposition Leader, is presently the incumbent representative: “I feel pretty confident that Lee Mark will win,” which would mean that the Opposition PUP would have to find a new leader to represent them in Parliament, either as Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s elections.
Barrow also said that the Albert division, which the PUP has held, will go the UDP, with the very recent resignation of Mark Espat.
He expects a different outcome in the districts. Although he did not concede to any defeat at all, Barrow said that he does not expect a blowout in the 2012 elections, and he said that while the north is, as the PUPs say, their battleground, he still sees “red” in the north.
In regards to his party’s prospects, Lopez of the BUA does believe that “there is a very good chance one or two of us [BUA] could get in…”
He said he does not see the UDP winning the municipals and he thinks the San Pedro Council will be mixed.
As for his chance of winning the Belize Rural South seat he is contesting, Lopez was cautious in making any projections.
Lopez said, “The Belizean electorate is just too unpredictable.”
While the atmosphere in San Pedro is usually pleasant, Lopez told us that in the hours leading into the 2012 dual elections, “It’s starting to heat up a little, and a lot of mudslinging has been taking place between the two major parties,” speaking of the UDP and PUP.
As for the energy among the voters, he said he expects a relatively high voter turnout, and he did tell us that he thinks the undecided voters will probably lean towards the UDP rather than the PUP.
He said that the “blue” seems to be “financially strapped out here”, citing the very few banners and very infrequent ads he’s seen for the Opposition.
Saturday, said Lopez, the UDP spent big, probably $30,000 to $40,000 on a rally on the island, at which it gave away appliances and beer—as much as Lopez said he has spent on his pre-election campaign.