BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 8, 2020– Election fever is in the air, but if the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) has its way, political aspirants in the upcoming general elections may have to wait a little longer for their “judgment day” than the announced November 11.
On Tuesday of this week, it was announced from the office of the Governor General that general elections will be held on Wednesday, November 11, and Wednesday, October 21, has been designated as Nomination Day.
Already, teams of campaigners from the different political parties, brandishing their party colors and flags, have been traversing the streets of Belize City, and one presumes that the same is occurring countrywide, as election fever is now getting into high gear, notwithstanding the COVID-19 restrictions.
The Belize Peace Movement (BPM), in coordination with Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), first attempted court action in October 2019 to demand a redistricting exercise before any new elections were held. After some glitches were fixed, their action was re-filed in December 2019; but it has been languishing in the court system since then, while the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in Belize has taken center stage since March 2020.
Now, with general elections imminent, the BPM case is back in the news, as the announcement of the election date has triggered their efforts to have their case heard in court before elections are held. And their intention is to file for a Supreme Court injunction to stop the elections, and have the date postponed until after the redistricting exercise is completed.
In a 7News interview on Tuesday night, BPM chairman Bobby Lopez articulated the essence of the BPM case, and their objective in seeking an injunction from the court to stop the elections.
As Lopez explained: “This is a constitutional case. We live in a constitutional democracy. The Court is the guardian of that democracy and upholds the Constitution.”
The linchpin of the BPM case is that the disproportionate sizes of our 31 electoral constituencies are in direct violation of our Constitution, the most glaring example given being the disparity between the size of the Fort George constituency, which has under two thousand registered voters, and Stann Creek West, which has close to nine thousand.
Lopez said the BPM has no intention of withdrawing its case, and would prefer court action before elections, to avoid the results having to be declared “null and void” afterwards, as they would certainly appeal. He said that the Prime Minister knew long ago “that there was an injunction built into” the BPM case, “in the event that the case was prolonged into… election season.”
As of this morning, Lopez could not tell Amandala exactly when their injunction effort would be filed; only that their legal team, headed by Arthur Saldivar, is preparing to file for the injunction. It could be any day now, he said.
Once the court grants the injunction, Lopez is confident that the redistricting exercise could be completed and a new election date set within the timeframe allowed by our Constitution:
“Within the Constitution, the Prime Minister has a 90-day extension, which would take us into next February,” he said. “From our research, redistricting has taken place in huge countries such as Australia, within a month,” he also commented. Notably, he also remarked, “If we can get the court case finished within… let’s have it every day; this thing could be done within a week, and we move on.”
It is of course noteworthy that the BPM “David” which is going up against the political status quo “Goliath” is not alone in this effort. The BPM case has been joined independently by a different “Goliath,” Lord Michael Ashcroft, who was allowed in February of this year to join the BPM case before the court as an “interested party.” And in July, Ashcroft sponsored the cost of an international expert on redistricting to give his opinion as an “expert witness” to bolster the BPM case.
Also noteworthy is that the deputy leader of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), Wil Maheia, who was also an original partner in the BPM case, has opted to contest the Fort George seat as a test case, to prove that he could fare better there than in his traditional Toledo constituency, which is much larger and more expensive to traverse in campaigning. Maheia has since been asked by the BPM, “a self-funded, duly registered Civil Society Organization,” to choose his options: either run in the election or continue as a part of the BPM case, as his candidacy may not help their case in court.
It is left to be seen what will unfold. If Maheia continues his campaign in Fort George, what will be the BPM response in its injunction effort? When will the BPM application for a Supreme Court injunction be filed? And then, will the court give a verdict before November 11? With the BPM case having been filed almost a year ago, will it be a case of “justice delayed, justice denied?”
Belizeans need to be aware that, notwithstanding the political and financial power and influence of the two major political parties, who may be comfortable with the November 11 date, and ready to “rumble” in the upcoming general elections, the Judiciary is the third vital arm of our democracy (along with the Legislature and the Executive); and the Constitution, which it is the domain of the Court to interpret, is above all.