Publisher — 11 December 2007 — by Evan X Hyde
The only general elections I saw which were decided during the course of the 30-day campaign itself, were in 1993. June of 1993 was an upset victory for the UDP, because they had already lost two other elections earlier in 1993 by landslide margins. In January of 1993 they lost the Freetown bye-election when Jorge Espat beat Howell Longsworth badly, and then the UDP lost the Belize City Council by a wide margin in March of that year.
When the PUP called the general elections for June 93, it was 15 months before the elections were due, but there seemed no way they could lose. The difference between June 1993, on the one hand, and January and March 93, on the other, was the hasty coalition between the UDP and Philip Goldson’s NABR, which ran in June as UDP/NABR. Goldson was the only NABR candidate on the 29-candidate UDP/NABR slate, although the UDP’s Hubert Elrington was NABR-sympathetic.
NABR had offered candidates for both the Freetown bye-election and the March 93 Belize City Council election. NABR had split the non-PUP vote. More than that, however, none of the UDP leaders had the iconic standing of Mr. Goldson. Mr. Philip had been the soul and conscience of the Opposition from 1961, and when he was apart from them, the UDP could not drum up the same kind of militancy.
There are some, especially in the PUP, who say that the announced decision by the British to withdraw their troops from Belize affected the PUP negatively in the June 93 generals. I suppose it did. General elections, moreover, had never been called so early before the incumbents’ five-year term had elapsed, so questions about the rush cost the PUP some votes. But, the UDP had a huge margin to make up, and these two considerations alone could not have done the trick.
For sure the unity with NABR was a major boost for the UDP in every respect.
I would say that it was about 12 days before the election that the UDP came on with their free education and free land promises. Personally, I think the free land gimmick was more electric than the free education concept. Free land amounted to a handout worth many thousands of dollars in the streets. By that I mean that there were many street people who intended to sell such land as soon as they came into possession of it. Most of them, of course, never did get that freebie.
Had the UDP opened their 30-day election campaign with the free education and free land promises, the PUP would have had time to take the promises seriously and adjust to them. It was the timing of the promises that messed up the PUP, I submit. Anything big that comes out just 12 days before election day, tends to appear like an afterthought. The PUP knew that the UDP were desperate, and essentially ignored the free education/free land matters. At least, that’s how it seemed to me.
The PUP also lost in 1993 because there was too much emphasis on electing Ralph Fonseca in the new Belize Rural Central. Collet and Caribbean Shores were affected negatively by the obsession with Rural Central, and the PUP lost in those first named areas by 1 and 40 votes, respectively.
There is a lesson here for the UDP. The two greatest upsets in general elections history were in 1979 and 1993. In both cases, the losers were overconfident. The UDP have been giving off an aura of overconfidence for some time now. They still have a sizeable lead, but that lead has been reduced somewhat.
Let’s look at the 11 seats in the area I know best – Belize City. I say 11, because I consider Belize Rural Central to be more a part of a Greater Belize City than a rural seat. Of those 11 seats, the PUP will win 4, and could win as many as 7. If the PUP won 7 of those 11 seats, say, then they would only have to win 9 of the remaining 20 to form a government.
One issue the UDP should pay attention to is the third party vote. The fact that the third parties have not been able to form a national alliance, means that a lot of their voters, or potential voters, will start looking to the two major parties. None of the major parties would be able to take such curious, intelligent voters for granted. If one of the major parties finds a way to appeal seriously to the independent voters, it could make a difference in a close race. Remember now – the PUP have endorsed the elected Senate; whereas the UDP have not.
Still, after all is said and done, the UDP have good reason to be confident. After being shelled in national municipal elections 20 months ago, the PUP essentially stayed with the same game. What is it they know that the rest of us do not? Well, it may be that they knew a long time ago that Dale Trujeque was working for them. Are there others inside the UDP camp working for them that have yet to reveal themselves? Do they have other audio and video tapes which they expect to make a difference?
The lesson of 1993 was that general elections are not decided until election day itself, not to mention counting night. It is amazing that the PUP could still have a chance to win in 2008. But there was no way the UDP could have won in 1993. And they did. They became UDP/NABR long enough to do the job. Free education and free land turned the tide.