The two major political parties in Belize, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP), would like persons who are not members to keep their distance from their internal affairs, especially when they are going about selecting a new leader. The UDP is at this time about to select a new leader, and the fact is that what the UDP does is everybody’s business here, and in some instances what they do has implications in the greater world.
In a healthy democracy people who aspire for leadership are stripped and searched, figuratively; they are scrutinized for their integrity, their personal conduct over the years, their achievements and their failures, their stated goals and their methods of achieving them.
Belize does not have a healthy democracy. There should be much greater participation in the selection of these persons who can end up in control of our money and natural resources, and political system, but our main political parties use guile, and muscle, to insulate their candidates, so that the people learn only what the leaders want them to.
The UDP is coming off the debacle of their last leadership convention, when the winner was forced to step down mere days after his victory. Their last leadership convention was held under an ominous cloud, and the upcoming one is dripping with intrigue.
At the beginning of last week five candidates, four elected representatives and one senator, were positioned to throw their hats into the ring at the ITVET on Freetown Road in Belize City on July 12, 2020. The convention had previously been set for April 5, 2020, but had to be postponed when Belize entered a state of emergency and near total lockdown on April 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The five candidates in the race at the beginning of the week were Hon. Darrell Bradley, who is the President of the Senate; Hon. Wilfred Elrington, who is the Minister of Foreign Affairs; Hon. Patrick Faber, who is the Minister of Education, Youth, Sports, and Culture; Hon. Omar Figueroa, who is the Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development; and Hon. John Saldivar, who doesn’t hold a portfolio.
Hon. Bradley, a former mayor of Belize City who tried, but failed, to win a seat in the House of Representatives in 2015, in Caribbean Shores, is the only candidate for UDP leadership who is not a sitting member of the House of Representatives. One does not have to be an area representative to lead a political party, but one has to hold such a position if he or she will lead the country. Mr. Bradley is also not a standard bearer for the UDP in any division, the first step toward becoming an area representative.
In some quarters Mr. Bradley has been praised for his infrastructural work while he was mayor of Belize City, but at this newspaper we have criticized him for saddling the present City Council with a contract to a political appointee that extended well past his term in office. Mr. Bradley has stated that if he is elected he would push for campaign financing reform and the strengthening of our governance systems.
Hon. Elrington, the most senior member of the group, has not said much to the Belizean people about his candidacy. If he feels that getting a yes vote to go to the ICJ for the settling of the Guatemalan claim to Belize is a feather in his cap, he hasn’t claimed it, at least not publicly.
Hon. Patrick Faber was soundly defeated in the UDP’s last leadership convention. Approaching the next leadership convention, he hasn’t made any public statements about his vision for Belize. Instead, he has been concentrating on steering his main portfolio, the Ministry of Education, toward the reopening of schools in August. The recent firing of some high-profile personnel from his Culture Ministry, NICH, doesn’t help his cause.
Hon. Figueroa entered the political arena just before the last general election, in 2015, and he has largely kept a low profile. He has taken most of the blame for the recent shutdown of the “informal” cattle trade with Guatemala, which deprives Belize of desperately needed foreign exchange. There has been no news of government getting closer to formalizing this vital trade anytime soon.
Many people outside of the UDP camp are questioning the candidacy of Hon. Saldivar, who won in the last leadership convention held by the UDP, on February 9, 2020, but three days afterwards had to step down because of his acceptance of money from men who had been found guilty of defrauding the US government out of several hundred million dollars. Mr. Saldivar has been removed from Cabinet twice because of his associations.
Mr. Saldivar’s view is that he did nothing wrong, and thus he re-entered his name when the UDP announced another convention for leadership of the party. Via Facebook he has offered his ideas on an economic plan for Belize.
With three weeks to go before the convention, it is an open race, and at this time there is a lot of horse trading taking place inside the UDP camp, for sure. Indeed, over the weekend there were rumors of one of the candidates dropping out, and on Monday it was announced that Hon. Figueroa had withdrawn his candidacy. A victory for one of the sitting area representatives means it’s full speed ahead, but if Bradley wins he will have to try to cut a deal with the Prime Minister. If he can’t, his most likely bet would be to enter the race in the Fort George Division. That is a PUP stronghold, so a Darrell Bradley candidacy there would most likely mean that the UDP is projecting for the 2025 general election.
It is possible that when the bell rings on July 12 that the four men who are still in the race will not answer, and it is not farfetched that there will be another contender for the crown.
There was a deadline for candidates to enter their names in the leadership race, and the UDP does have a party constitution that directs how party affairs are managed, but the party, while in control of government, has trampled every law and code of the country that limited their control of our resources, so it would surprise absolutely no one if a path was cleared for one who everyone knows is the Prime Minister’s favorite.
We don’t have to open the Prime Minister’s mouth to know that the chairman of the UDP, Hon. Senator Michael Peyrefitte, is his first choice for leader, and everyone knows the Prime Minister has direct control over two UDP strongholds, Queen’s Square and Mesopotamia. If he doesn’t like the way the convention winds are blowing, these two divisions, which might have fallen to re-districting if COVID-19 hadn’t intervened, and which will most certainly be a part of another division by 2025, are his key cards.
The UDP convention for leadership, it concerns our nation. We are watching it closely.