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BPM insists redistricting case to be settled in court

PoliticsBPM insists redistricting case to be settled in court

BELIZE CITY, Tues. Dec. 7, 2021– Minister of Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform, Hon. Henry Usher, has stated that it is pointless for the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) to insist on going to court to secure a ruling on the redistricting case they brought against the then government before the last general election, since the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) has already decided to engage in a comprehensive review of electoral divisions in Belize beginning in January next year. Usher said the EBC, an independent commission, had reported that it had already started setting up its task force, and that it expects its work will be completed by mid-July in 2023.

About three weeks ago, the BPM, in a press release, said that the Acting Chief Justice, Ms. Michelle Arana, had called for the BPM and EBC to sit down and settle the matter, but the EBC’s response was not satisfactory, so they would be asking the court for a formal judgment.

The objective of the case brought by the BPM is to ensure an equal distribution of the registered voters in the various constituencies in the country, in line with the Constitution, which states that these constituencies should “have as nearly as may be an equal number of persons eligible to vote” — rather than the large disparities that currently exist between the number of voters in each constituency. One of the largest disparities can be seen in the huge difference between the number of voters in the Fort George Division and the Stann Creek West Division, with 1,876 registered voters being listed in the Fort George Division in the recent 2020 general elections, while the Stann Creek West Division had 9,864. BPM president, Hubert Enriquez says the matter has to go to court, to ensure that the government follows through, and to allow for the BPM to seek redress with the OAS in related matters if they are not satisfied. Arthur Saldivar is the lead lawyer for the BPM, and he is assisted by attorney Ms. Michelle Trapp. The case is expected to return before the court in the near future.

The BPM had unsuccessfully sought the postponement of the most recent general elections (which were held on November 11 last year) until the redistricting exercise was carried out. Lord Michael Ashcroft, interestingly, joined their case as an interested party, and through his largesse, an international expert in these matters, Sean P. Trende, was hired to study and report on his findings to the court. The report found that the constituencies were not aligned with international democratic norms, that approximately 72% of the constituencies were either underrepresented or overrepresented.

Trende’s expert report, produced on October 14, 2020, included various maps showing more equitable distribution of voters across the constituencies, and the pros and cons of each. Naturally, all eyes are on the smallest constituencies in Belize City — Fort George, Albert, Queen’s Square and Mesopotamia, three of which have been existence since 1961, when Belize was divided into 18 electoral districts.

In 1984 the number of Belize’s electoral districts was increased from 18 to 28. Belize Rural Central was added in 1993 after a near tie in the number of constituencies won by the two major political parties in the 1989 general elections, when the PUP defeated the UDP 15-13; and in 2008 two new constituencies, Belmopan and Cayo North East, were added, to the Cayo District, bringing us to the present total of 31.

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