BELIZE CITY–After an executive meeting held in Belize City today, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) confirmed that Richard Harrison, a businessman of San Ignacio, Cayo, will be nominated to contest the January 5, 2015 by-election for Cayo North – triggered two years before its due date after the surprise resignation of Joseph Mahmud, the PUP’s Cayo North area representative, on Monday.
The ruling United Democratic Party had picked its candidate in February 2014 and Mahmud was the man who the Opposition had thought would contest the 2017 general elections for them in Cayo North. However, Mahmud tendered his resignation in October as the PUP’s standard bearer for that division, although he assured his party that he would stay in the seat until 2017.
The PUP was therefore taken by surprise when Mahmud resigned from Parliament without warning them, forcing them into crisis mode – which meant that the PUP had to abort its plans to hold a divisional convention in Cayo North.
When the western caucus met earlier this week, they decided unanimously that no convention should be held, and they also voted to recommend that the PUP endorse Michel Chebat, attorney-at-law, as the man to contest the Cayo North seat in the upcoming by-election.
However, PUP Leader Francis Fonseca announced today that Chebat withdrew his candidacy, “in the best interest of the party…”
Western Caucus leader Julius Espat confirmed to Amandala that Chebat had withdrawn his candidacy, leaving Harrison as the PUP’s nominee.
Nomination Day is Monday, December 15, 2014 in San Ignacio.
“Richard Harrison represents the best opportunity for the party to win the by-election in Cayo North on January 5th, 2015,” Fonseca said.
However, UDP leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, told the press on Friday that the UDP will win the by-election.
“We honestly feel that Omar Figueroa is an excellent candidate. He has the advantage of having been working the area prior to his February convention win and thereafter. We feel that in all the circumstances the momentum clearly is with him and with the UDP, so we are altogether confident of victory,” Barrow said.
After his candidacy was confirmed on Friday, Harrison took questions from the media about his track record as a businessman, and also about a Facebook post he made about people ‘who come with their bags of shillings from the puppet masters’.
Harrison said that he was not talking about the PUP, but about the UDP, who he said would try to win the by-election “with money and slander and a lot of foolishness…” rather than dealing with the issues.
As to his business failures, Harrison said, “Please also ask, why did I fail? And I am going to get to the bottom of that. One of the reasons why I am here is because what happened to me with my investments should not happen to any other hardworking Belize woman and man.”
Harrison, the owner of Verena Foods and Harrison Chemicals, has reportedly suspended the venture, and he said that it is because of changes in policy by the Government. He claimed that the Barrow administration lowered the import duties on the items that compete directly with his, to favor their importing friends.
He said that the Government also removed the Environmental Tax on imported goods which compete directly with his, which again favored importers.
Opposition Leader Fonseca spoke highly of Harrison, saying he has a tremendous track record.
“He is a thinker, he is an innovator, he is an entrepreneur and he invests in this country. And I have great respect for people who are prepared to put their own money, their blood, their sweat, their tears into the land and invest in Belize and he is one of those persons,” Fonseca said.
Harrison is a columnist of the Belize Times, the newspaper of the Opposition People’s United Party. He also holds a Master’s in business administration degree.
He has been picked to challenge the UDP’s Omar Figueroa, a jaguar researcher, ecologist and conservation biologist, and former senator for the UDP.