BELIZE CITY, Tues. October 6, 2020– The day on which general elections will be held, November 11, 2020, has been declared a public and bank holiday by the Ministry of National Security. The announcement was made in a release that was issued on October 6, 2020, and was signed by the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte.
Section 9 of the Holidays Act, Chapter 289 of the Laws of Belize, empowers the Minister responsible for holidays to declare a special day as a public and bank holiday at any time. The designation of Nov. 11 as a holiday was prompted by a proposal that was made by the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, at the last sitting of the House of Representatives. Prime Minister Dean Barrow had personally agreed to the idea when it was presented by Briceño.
The informal declaration, though, quickly prompted a reaction from the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), whose president, Marissa Longsworth, said, “This additional cost would have been challenging even during normal times, but is exacerbated during the current depressed economic conditions.”
Longsworth proposed that the general elections be held on a Sunday, but as she said, “The response was not a positive one.”
In the Prime Minister’s letter of reply to the president of the B.C.C.I., he said, “I cannot get Cabinet’s approval for holding this year’s general elections on a Sunday.”
The letter also said that the “sounding of some church leaders shows that the churches would be against it,” basically saying that it would not be a suitable voting date for citizens who engage in religious rites on Sunday.
However, it is of note that past general elections have been held on Ash Wednesday, one of the most significant days on the Christian calendar. Although the elections were held under a PUP administration; the UDP participation was at normal levels.
The Leader of the Opposition had explained, in proposing that Election Day be a holiday, that “because of the COVID situation we can declare a holiday so that everybody has time to be able to go, constantly, during the day to the polls and avoid that rush.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow said, “I agree distinctively with what the Leader of the Opposition has said; this is the time of coronavirus; these are COVID-19 times. Already it will be a job, a chore, to get people to go to the polls; there is a fear-factor.”
We reached out to the media contact for the Belize Chamber of Commerce for comment, but received no reply.