“Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them…
Pity the nation, oh pity the people
Who allow their rights to erode
And their freedoms to wash away”
The recent application to the Supreme Court by the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño, and the Chairman of the People’s United Party, Henry Charles Usher, to challenge the Belize Peace Movement’s case for constitutionally mandated redistricting, not only showcases a conflict of interest. It also raises serious concerns about the party’s commitment to Belize’s national interest above narrow political party interests.
After years of their collusion with the ruling party to ignore the constitutional requirement for redistricting, and after ignoring what could have been their role to push for redistricting in court, their intent now is to block the BPM’s application for an injunction to delay the upcoming elections pending the completion of the constitutionally mandated redistricting exercise.
PUP Chairman, Henry Charles Usher, has also recently replaced his father, former Prime Minister and Fort George area representative, Said Musa, as the intended candidate of the People’s United Party for the Fort George electoral division, which, with only about 32% (far less than half) of the average number of voters required for each electoral division, represents Belize’s smallest electoral division in number of voters and geographic expanse. With Fort George being a division won by Usher’s father in every election since 1979, it is also in Usher’s interest to protect his candidacy in this very small division for another easy win and a chance for a Ministerial position, as a legacy of his family’s party influence.
Despite serving as the Loyal Opposition over the past twelve years, the PUP is pressing for the status quo to remain, and for elections to be carried through as scheduled, under the current serious malapportionment of electoral divisions and the gross inequality of people’s representation in the legislature.
In their application document, dated October 6, as reported by 7News, Briceño and Usher stated that as electoral candidates in the upcoming elections, they have sufficient interest in the claim for an injunction, and listed a number of reasons for seeking to block the BPM redistricting lawsuit and application for injunction.
They also stated that as candidates for the People’s United Party in their respective divisions, they will both “be directly affected by the decision of this court, on an application of an injunction to restrain the holding of general elections after the next dissolution of the National Assembly by His Excellency the Governor General.”
They argue that they and other candidates “have been campaigning for more than one year with the intention of standing in the general election to be held after the Governor-General next dissolves the National Assembly.” They also argue that they and the People’s United Party, “have made comprehensive plans and expended substantial resources in preparation for the next general elections, and will be substantially prejudiced if the general elections are delayed.”
If granted permission by the presiding judge to join the BPM case, Briceño and Usher will further argue that the court has no jurisdiction to issue an injunction restraining the holding of the general elections after the National Assembly has been dissolved.
During their campaigning for more than a year, why didn’t the PUP press for the constitutional right of people to be equally represented? Quite clearly, the arguments in the Briceño-Usher application, including that they and the party “have been campaigning for more than a year” and that they “have made plans and expended substantial resources”, highlight narrow party interests over the national interest.
It reminds me of the Chinese owners of a building that was recently being constructed in P.G., in violation of all building codes, who hoped to get the court to agree that since they had expended substantial resources, the court would allow them to continue their contravention of the law.
Just because of their plans and investments, are the Leader of the Opposition and the Party Chairman asking the Supreme Court of Belize to ignore the Constitution and its protection of Belizean rights to equal representation? Are they asking that the Constitution, the Supreme Law of Belize, be adjusted to meet their party interest above that of the people of this nation? Isn’t this the reason why the Constitution must supersede political parties — to avert the compromising of the well-being of the nation? Isn’t this the reason why the founding leader, George Price, kept reminding Belizeans that national interest must be above party interest?
What about constituencies that significantly exceed the required average number of electors and geographic expanse per area representative, such as Belmopan and Stann Creek West, and Toledo East and West, among many others? Don’t the Party Chairman and Leader of the Opposition even consider that these are serious inequalities to consider? Is their intent to saddle the Belizean voters with another five years of unequal voter representation?
While the PUP’s “Six Steps to Make Government More Accountable” completely evades the issue of redistricting, it does state that “we must make the National Assembly function as the center-piece of our government, complete with all requisite checks and balances.”
Why then continue to ignore and then seek to block the redistricting case to protect the status quo of the Fort George Division as well as other Belize City divisions that are by far below the average number of electors?
This tactic to block redistricting is not very surprising when one realizes that the PUP is yet to demonstrate deep reforms in policy and divisional leadership (including representation by women), and the rebuilding of trust since their last administration. One wonders if this foreshadows a pattern of same old, same old partisan politics and the downward see-saw spiraling of moral leadership and integrity to the detriment of preserving the principles and values of Belize’s democracy as is enshrined in the Constitution.
During this time when both UDP and PUP have swept the long overdue redistricting under the rug, it is left to be seen if there is any substance to the Leader of the Opposition’s message that the party, “WILL break these oppressive political chains that bind us, and restore stability, equality and harmony to our beloved country” and that “this era of the PUP will be one in which we work for the good of all Belizeans.”
On behalf of a party under your leadership, which seeks change from the seesaw of corruption from one administration to another since independence, you cannot reject redistricting and believe that this demonstrates those words you speak, honorable Sir. You cannot saddle this nation with another five-year election cycle of this constitutional violation. The Constitution is still the Supreme Law that you have sworn upon the Bible that you shall uphold.