A wealthy, inter-connected core of Belizeans and transnational foreign investors have made Belize’s political campaigns into what they are today – electronic, entertainment exercises wherein the disenchanted masses of our people, especially in the urban areas, view the campaign as more of an opportunity for handouts than a chance to make important decisions about their lives and the future of their children.
Before I was born, the political system of British Honduras only allowed citizens with certain property qualifications to vote, and for a long time women were not allowed to vote. All this changed permanently in 1954, when universal adult suffrage came into effect. From 1954 onwards, all Belizeans 21 years and older became eligible to register, and to vote in municipal and national elections. In 1978, the right to vote was moved downwards to include all citizens 18 years of age and older.
Theoretically then, since the vast majority of our people are not rich people, universal adult suffrage gives poor Belizeans and Belizeans of modest means the right and opportunity to organize themselves and present candidates for election who would use the public finances and public resources of Belize for the benefit of poor Belizeans and Belizeans of modest means.
There was a time in our history, in the years after universal adult suffrage, when it appeared that the People’s United Party (PUP) was truly a revolutionary political organization whose focus was on improving the lot of poor Belizeans and Belizeans of modest means. In the terminology of politics, an individual or organization which is primarily interested in improving the lot of the poor and those of modest means, is called “left wing.” So, we can say that the PUP in the 1950s was definitely a left wing party.
When an individual or an organization is dedicated to protecting the property and promoting the rights of the minority who are wealthy, such an individual or organization is considered “right wing.” So, the political party which provided opposition to the PUP during the 1950s, the National Party (NP), can be called a “right wing” political party. The NP was favorable to the status quo of British colonialism. There was this dominant British company – Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC), which was supporting NP. In addition, at the base of the NP was a class of natives, mostly those in the civil service, who believed they had interests which were best protected by supporting the British colonial system.
In 1956, there was a power struggle in the revolutionary PUP, and the two defeated leaders, Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, left to form the Honduran Independence Party (HIP) in 1957. But then, Mr. Richardson decided to go into exile in Trinidad, where he worked as a journalist for many years, and Mr. Goldson decided he had to take what was left of the HIP into an alliance with the NP in 1958. That new party became the National Independence Party (NIP).
Now, here’s the thing. Did Mr. Goldson, who had been a stalwart PUP revolutionary leader from 1950 to 1956 and had been jailed for sedition by the British in 1951, change his views in 1958 to accept the pro-British colonialism views which dominated the NP? This is an interesting and important question.
Mr. Goldson adopted a relatively low profile attitude once he became a part of the NIP. His newspaper, The Belize Billboard, which was a daily, and easily the leading newspaper in the colony, made him independent financially. The NIP Leader was Mr. Herbert Fuller, an NP original. Mr. Goldson was so hands-off where the NIP was involved in the beginning, that he did not run in the March 1961 general elections, the first held under the new Ministerial constitution, wherein the PUP won all 18 seats, and the NIP and another Opposition party, the Christian Democratic Party (CDP), led by another former revolutionary PUP stalwart, Nick Pollard, Sr., won none.
Shortly after these 1961 general elections, however, Herbert Fuller fell seriously ill, and when he died the following year, he was succeeded by Mr. Goldson. Was the NIP under Mr. Goldson a left wing or a right wing party? It is hard for me to say, because the NIP under his leadership in the 1960s focused almost exclusively on fighting the Guatemalan claim to Belize. The NIP had no real development ideology.
Did the PUP remain a left wing party in the 1960s? I would say yes, although the relationship between the PUP Leader, Mr. George Price, and the British colonial rulers, definitely became more respectful during the 1960s than that relationship had been in the 1950s. In 1964, the British granted British Honduras full internal self-government, under an all-PUP administration.
In September of 1973, the United Democratic Party (UDP) was formed, and it absorbed the NIP, along with the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and the Liberal Party. This new UDP, under the leadership of the attorney Dean Lindo, was now definitely a right wing party, but it inherited some roots credibility from Mr. Goldson’s participation.
The new UDP quickly became very popular and very powerful, and every indication was that it would win the general elections of 1979 and form a pro-business government in Belize. In 1979, the PUP would still be considered left wing. So then, why would the majority of Belizean voters, most of whom, as we have said, are poor or of modest means, vote for a party which was favored by, and supportive of, the rich elite?
If you think about it, left wing parties should win all elections, if we are looking only at the bare bones arithmetic. All over the post-colonial world, elections mostly end up as contests between basically right wing parties and basically left wing parties. In Jamaica, the Jamaica Labor Party (JLP) is a right wing party: the People’s National Party (PNP) is a left wing party. In Mexico, the PAN is a right wing party: by comparison, the PRI was considered left wing. In Trinidad and Guyana, for their part, the left wing versus right wing paradigm is complicated by ethnicity issues.
In our Tuesday issue, I will move forward from 1979 and show you how the UDP and the PUP have ended up in 2012 as virtually the same thing where their economic policies are concerned.