Political observers in Belize think there is a real possibility that general elections may be called early next year, one of the keys being the increased urgency of activity at the Lands Department. For sure they believe the general elections will be held in 2012. They just don’t know how early. The ruling UDP’s five-year term expires in February of 2013, but in 1998 they went two months over their five-year term, a spiteful gesture which helped to sink them in the August 28, 1998 general elections.
The 1993 general elections were called fifteen months before the PUP’s five-year term was completed. This is a record for early generals here. In 1998, to repeat, the UDP held on two months past their allotted five years. In 2003, the PUP called general elections four months early, and in 2008 they called the generals a month early.
In Jamaica, the ruling Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) has called general elections for December 29, in the height of their holiday season. The latest speculation in Belize is that Prime Minister Dean Barrow may call general elections in February, or have the general elections the same day as the national municipal elections, scheduled for March 2012, following a precedent which the PUP set in 2003.
One problem with February is that Christmas-loving Belizeans are only just recovering from their Yuletide financial excesses in February. The UDP may be thinking, however, that the PUP is still in a state of relative disarray. As a matter of fact, this week’s scuttlebutt had the PUP’s big boys considering moving Gilroy Usher, Sr., from Port Loyola, while the talking is that their Caribbean Shores’ standard bearer, Anthony Mahler, may be having second thoughts about running now that his opponent will be Santi Castillo instead of Carlos Perdomo.
On the other hand, the story is that some money has entered the PUP coffers, and has been duly shared with those standard bearers who are considered loyal and faithful by the old guard.
As most of you readers know, Johnny Briceño had resigned as PUP Leader, a post he had held since March of 2008. The party owes Briceño almost $3 million, money he had personally invested, besides which he had had to put up his own collateral for a couple more millions at the bank. Mark Espat was appointed Interim Leader after Briceño’s surprise resignation, but even though 30 of 31 PUP standard bearers endorsed him, he declined the substantive post after careful analysis of the PUP financials. Three candidates for leadership were then being processed – Arthur Saldivar, Mike Espat and Julius Espat. All three of them were standard bearers/executive members, but none of them was a member of the House of Representatives. The first and last named in fact, had never run in a general election. It was therefore with a sense of relief that the PUP rank-and-file saw the inner circle arbitrarily replace these three pretenders with Freetown area representative, Francis Fonseca, who had been narrowly defeated for leadership by Briceño in the leadership convention of March 2008.
Where the growing and increasingly important independent vote is concerned, over the weekend, the VIP, which is contesting the municipal elections in Belmopan and Belize City, finally appeared to cement their relationship with Wil Maheia’s PNP, a “third party” which is running a slate in the Punta Gorda municipals. On KREM Radio this Sunday afternoon, the VIP informed that there will be a function held this coming Wednesday to formalize the unity of these two third parties and other independent forces.
In closing, we would suggest that UDP negatives include the relatively poor performance of the Belize City Council, the perception of corruption in key Ministries such as the Ministry of National Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture, and the evidence of nepotism.
In addition, this week our sources were saying that elements amongst the workers at the nationalized Belize Electricity Limited have reacted with some grumbling to Government’s promise of a cut in electricity rates for consumers. They apparently feel that if the company is doing well enough to allow for relief for consumers, perhaps they, the BEL workers, should get a raise. Now this is a situation which bears watching.
No doubt the largest issue in Belize’s next general elections, no matter when it is called, will be the role of the international banker/investor, Lord Michael Ashcroft, in the Belizean economy. Lord Ashcroft will surely be supporting the PUP financially, while Prime Minister Barrow has reasons to believe that his fight to put the Lord “under manners” will be supported at the polls on election day. To Ashcroft or not to Ashcroft: we shall see what we shall see.