BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 26, 2021– Last week, attorney for the Belize Peace Movement (BPM), Arthur Saldivar, denounced the Government of Belize’s decision to intervene in the redistricting exercise, calling it an executive overreach.
In a Cabinet brief issued last week, GoB informed the public that the members of Cabinet “received an update from Hon. Henry Charles Usher, Minister of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform, on the redistricting exercise and urged that a plan be finalized and presented to Cabinet.”
The redistricting case, which was initiated by Saldivar as legal counsel for the BPM, will finally be heard in the Supreme Court chambers of Ag. Chief Justice Michelle Arana after almost two and a half years.
Saldivar told local media that it is the Election and Boundaries Commission — rather than any Cabinet minister — that is the constitutional body vested with the authority to put forward recommendations to GoB on such matters.
He went on to suggest that the autonomy of the body is being usurped by the Government in this regard and that their actions are a violation of the principle of Separation of Powers that is key to the country’s democratic traditions.
Last year, before the general elections, the BPM sought an injunction to stay the holding of the election until a redistricting exercise was completed. That injunction was ultimately quashed by Chief Justice Arana.
The case, which is rooted in the principles of fair representation, is an effort to ensure that voters are distributed across the various constituencies in a balanced way to ensure adequate and proportionate representation for Belizean citizens.
The BPM has said the exercise is over 20 years belated and has caused a chronic imbalance in representation across the country.
Last year, following the failure of the injunction to force a postponement of the 2020 General Elections, the chairman of the BPM, Bobby Lopez, said, “We all know that Belizeans have to live with this violation of our constitutional rights for another 5 years or until such time that another general elections is called. Nevertheless, we will see our case through to its completion. Until then, the voter in Fort George carries 5.4 times more weight than the voter in Stann Creek West. Now, let’s see how they equitably share the resources of the country.”
As many Belizeans would recall, Lord Michael Ashcroft jimmied his way into this claim as an interested party. He has since commissioned an expert witness to carry out an analysis of the electoral landscape in Belize. The data is meant to be used as a resource to which the Election and Boundaries Commission can refer as it formulates its recommendations to the government when the relevant parties reach that phase of the redistricting exercise.
Ashcroft’s attorney, Andrew Marshalleck, told local media that the independent report shows the Belize District as having four too many seats. Meanwhile, Cayo is short of two seats, Orange Walk is short of one seat, and in the south — Stann Creek and Toledo — there is also one less seat than there should be in an equitably distributed voting landscape.
He said that this means that four seats will have to be transferred from the Belize district to the other legislative districts which do not have adequate representation.
While the government has acknowledged this disparity across the constituencies, it said that there was not enough time to carry out the exercise prior to the last election.
The parties are now moving toward the completion of the trial, and all indications are that the government is also moving forward with finalizing a plan to carry out the redistricting exercise, albeit without the issuance of any official recommendations by the Elections and Boundaries Commission.