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Redistricting case stalls

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 15, 2021 — Last year, as the November general elections were approaching, the Government of Belize and the Elections and Boundaries Commission found themselves facing a legal case brought by the Belize Peace Movement (BPM), with Lord Michael Ashcroft as an interested party. The claimants, who were seeking a postponement of the elections so that a redistricting exercise could take place, were represented by Arthur Saldivar and Andrew Marshalleck respectively.

The primary objective was to ensure that registered voters are equally distributed across all the constituencies in the country, thus eliminating instances where a disproportionate number of voters reside in one constituency. Justice Michelle Arana, who has been presiding over the case, had in turn ordered that an external expert, later identified as Sean P. Trende, submit an expert report which would be used to determine, not only if the case would move forward, but if the electoral divisions were in line with international standards of democracy.

Findings from the report indicated that in the latter part of 2020, approximately 72% of the constituencies were either underrepresented or overrepresented due to the inequitable distribution of voters and thus were not in alignment with international democratic norms. As a result, attorney Marshalleck began to push for the Elections and Boundaries Commission to propose a redistricting exercise, while Attorney Saldivar, on behalf of the Belize Peace Movement, filed for an injunction to delay the 2020 General Elections due to the findings listed in the expert report.

While Justice Arana denied the BPM’s injunction and general elections were allowed to proceed, the newly elected PUP administration did commit to undertaking the redistricting exercise, but no definite timeline was laid out for the exercise. The case subsequently went to trial, and Justice Arana ordered that the legal counsels of all parties involved mediate a mutually accepted approach to the redistricting exercise. This week the Belize Peace Movement announced that they had presented a draft Consent Order to the Elections and Boundaries Commission, requesting that they acknowledge the disparities in constituency sizes and submit a proposal for re-divisioning of the districts to the National Assembly by July of 2022. The Commission reportedly rejected that request, however, and a counteroffer has yet to be made, which has caused the redistricting efforts to stall.

The BPM is now back to requesting court intervention in the form of an official ruling once more. In a press release issued on Monday, the BPM shared the details of their draft Consent order, stating that “in keeping with these directive (made by the Honorable Chief Justice), the Claimants offered a draft Consent Order which in summary, provided that the Elections and Boundaries Commission: 1 acknowledges that the Electoral Divisions in Belize do not have as nearly as may be an equal number of persons eligible to vote, as required by the Belize Constitution, 2 undertakes its duty to lay before the National Assembly, by July of 2022 a proposal to re-division Belize as mandated by the Belize Constitution, 3 desist from conducting General Elections unless and until the divisions of Belize are made compliant with the Belize Constitution.”

The release went on to state that the offer was rejected without a counter-offer. The BPM has since requested that the Supreme Court make a formal ruling and are awaiting a response. In the interim, however, the BPM asserts that it “will pursue this matter until the requirements of the Belize Constitution is met so that all votes cast in Belize are of equal value.” The BPM further called on the Elections and Boundaries Commission to address this longstanding matter, which they say continues to undermine the rights of Belizeans and the democracy of the country at large.

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