The way our political system in Belize has operated, there is a significant lull in the intensity of activity following the general elections every five years. The winning party forms the government, appoints their Cabinet and gets their people placed in the various boards and jobs which are the spoils of victory for the winning party. The winning party goes about the business of drafting their various contracts and designing the various deals which will ensure that those individuals and groups who have financed the successful campaign, get their investments back 10, 15, 20 times over.
The energy goes out of the losing party like the air rushing out of a punctured balloon. They will owe bills they will spend years repaying, if ever, and those of their faithful who became too enthusiastic about the potential plums of victory and went out too much on a limb, will run for cover as hard as they can. Even the prospect of municipal elections around the corner, such as City Council elections in 1980 following general elections in 1979, will do little to pump up the losers. There was one significant exception to this rule, however. In October of 1974, the new UDP lost the general elections, 12?6, to the ruling PUP, but this was the best Opposition performance ever, and Belize City Council elections were due just 10 weeks later, in December 1974. So the UDP maintained much of their general election intensity and went on to win the Belize City Council, 6?3.
The UDP faced a daunting task, where losing party performance was concerned, after the March 5, 2003 general elections. Not only was their effort disappointing, but all municipal elections ? City Councils and Town Boards, were held that same day. So the UDP has no election to prime their people for until 2006 ? when the municipal elections are due.
To a certain extent, the UDP leadership had fallen in love with their new WAVE Radio during the 2003 election campaign. WAVE Radio and their GUARDIAN newspaper have kept the UDP fires burning during the 16 months since March 2003, but there is no real power in the media. Yes, you can make a lot of noise, you can work up people, and you can make some people feel very, very uncomfortable indeed, but there is no real power in the media. Real power, we submit, is the ability to put people in the streets.
In Belize City, where the major media houses are located, we always underestimated the national power of Corozal Southeast?s Florencio Marin, Sr., who kept the PUP alive after their 1984 disaster, and whose people provided the hard core of PUP street demonstrations from 1984 until 1998. Florencio had real power because he could put thousands of people into the streets.
Having raised the political temperature through their radio and newspaper, the UDP leadership felt some pressure to express the people?s frustration through a street demonstration. In a sense, the tail was wagging the dog, however, because the UDP leadership knew that there was not much to be gained by such a demonstration, and probably more to lose where credibility was concerned. The UDP leadership realized that it is relatively easy to work yourself up in a radio studio or impress your own self through pontificating in a newspaper, and they are supposed to be experienced enough to know their radio and newspaper don?t mean much unless you can put people in the streets.
The UDP went to the streets in February of this year. What the demonstration showed was that they are not that strong. The demonstration also suggested that former Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel may be contemplating a return to profile UDP politics.
A few weeks ago, reports were that Carlos Perdomo, Esquivel?s permanent secretary and right hand man in his two terms as Prime Minister, was about to resign from his position as president of St. John?s College, to accompany Manuel on a national tour.
An Esquivel return would strengthen the UDP in several ways. The one downside would be the fact that Lord Michael Ashcroft and Mr. Esquivel do not like each other. Lord Ashcroft?s importance derives from the fact that he is considered the banker who is willing to spend more money than any other man in Belize when he wishes something to be done politically. The Lord had supported Dean Barrow?s UDP between 1998 and 2003, but when push came to shove at election and demonstration times, the Lord had not gone all out for the Barrow UDP. He would be even less UDP friendly if Mr. Esquivel were to resume leadership.
When you think of collapses by the various Opposition parties following general elections since 1961, this UDP has done a pretty good job of staying alive, using the aforementioned radio and newspaper. But they can?t really put people in the streets, so they are not strong. This is why they remain willing to look at options to their status quo.