On February 9, 2020, the United Democratic Party (UDP) will hold a convention at the high-priced Belize City Center to fill a number of executive posts, the most important of which is for leader of the party. The post for leader of the UDP has to be filled because the party’s present leader, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, the Prime Minister of Belize, is nearing the end of his third term as prime minister, and the Constitution does not allow for an individual to serve four terms as leader of the country.
The life of a Belize government is not fixed; a government can call for a general election at any time within five years after it takes office. Within three months of the dissolution of the National Assembly, the general election has to be called, and the life of a government can only be extended if Belize is engaged in a war.
The Constitution of Belize states, at Section 37 (2), that “Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Prime Minister he shall appoint a member of the House of Representatives who is the leader of the political party which commands the support of the majority of the members of that House …” The Hon. Dean Barrow led the UDP to victory at the polls in 2008, 2012, and 2015, and after each victory the Governor General, Sir Colville Young, appointed him as Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister had stated after the November 2015 general election, at the start of the last term he could serve as head of government in Belize, that he favored a convention to elect a new leader for the party many months before the next election was due, and that he would step aside early and allow the new leader of the UDP to become Prime Minister for the remaining months of the party’s mandate. At the time Prime Minister Barrow spoke on how he would exit, he was fresh off his third consecutive general election victory, and his hold on the UDP was unchallenged.
The present states of affairs in the country and in the UDP camp are much different from what they were in 2015. In 2018, Senator/Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte, a candidate many Belizeans felt was favored by the Prime Minister, was defeated by Mr. Philip Willoughby in a contest to determine a standard bearer for the UDP in the Port Loyola constituency. It was glaring that the two Cabinet ministers running for leadership of the UDP on February 9 had teamed up to wall out Peyrefitte.
The Port Loyola defeat must have stung, but it did not substantially weaken PM Barrow’s position in the UDP. It appeared, as the party was approaching the leadership convention, that what happens after the votes are counted was still his call. That has changed, however ¯ handing over the reins is no longer simple political strategy.
All seemed under control in the UDP camp, just a month away from their leadership convention, until news broke that a United States court would be hearing a case in which sworn statements had been made that a sitting Cabinet minister in Belize and a high-ranking UDP official whose position in the party was not disclosed, had accepted bribes from an accused fraudster who is presently in a US jail.
The name of one of the candidates for leadership of the UDP has been in the spotlight because of a football relationship he had with the accused fraudster. Almost immediately after the news about the accused fraudster reached Belize, charges started flying around about the character of the other contender for leadership of the UDP —that he was no saint. Both candidates for leadership of the UDP had sworn to a hard but clean battle, but now what we have is an outright feud.
Belizeans have tremendous respect for US courts, but all we have is an allegation of serious wrongdoing by at least one elected representative in Belize. That is enough, though, to cast an ominous cloud over the leadership convention, which is just a little more than two weeks away.
The Prime Minister told the nation that all the members of his Cabinet denied being the recipient of bribes from the accused fraudster. The Prime Minister has said that he holds the whip, and if any of the aspirants for leadership of the UDP is proven to have lied, he will deal with that person. At this time Belize doesn’t know who the alleged venal officials of government are, and while we may find out who they are before the date of the convention, their guilt/innocence won’t be known until sometime down the road.
As it stands right now, the Governor General of Belize would say that the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, commands the respect of the majority of the members of the National Assembly. On February 10th the story could be different.
It is for sure that the winner of the leadership convention will want to be installed as Prime Minister. There is no guarantee that the UDP will form the next government when the general election is called, even though the party’s coffers are flush with cash thanks to its corrupt practices. Leadership of Belize would be a feather in anyone’s cap, even if only for several months. Neither of the two leadership candidates should be mad if they aren’t exalted, because neither of them has led the UDP to victory in a general election.
As it stands right now, the Prime Minister cannot voluntarily give up the leadership of the country until the muck has cleared. The difficulty for Belize is what happens if the new party leader presses him to leave.
There are limited cards in the Prime Minister’s deck. Presently, it would seem that he cannot possibly attempt to change the Constitution to remove the three-term limit on prime ministers. As of this moment, he probably doesn’t have the numbers. He could choose country over party and ask the Governor General to dissolve the government and call for new general elections, but the winner of the February convention could cut a deal with the loser, undermining such a move.
Belize has a lot to ponder at this time. After February 9 the party in power could be in turmoil, and there isn’t much any of us or the main opposition party can do about it. There is the Governor General, but that office has never been more than ceremonial.
Our situation could become precarious. We have seen the present party in government run over all the “check and balance” systems in our democracy to get their way. We have to worry what these people filled with the lust for power will do next.