October 28, 2020 is a significant day in the development of the political culture of Belize. The Prime Ministerial debate organized by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry marks a distinguishing moment in the future of the Belizean political environment.
The absence of the leaders of the two major parties has warranted severe castigation from the public. This absence is indicative not only of their disregard for these democratic exercises, but also of their demeanor towards constructive public discourse.
And yet, as the public seeks to make sense of the (unsurprising) gall of the absentee leaders, or lampoon the leaders who showed face, a larger process is at work.
The vanguards of the major parties maintain that the debate was electorally insignificant. This is arguably accurate, considering that neither the Belize People’s Front (BPF) nor the Belize Progressive Party (BPP) possess the scale to form a majority government. Many constituencies, for example, have no candidates from either party.
Dismissing the debate based on this perspective lends itself to subscribing, submitting even, to the inherent domination of those two major parties.
The idea that a Prime Ministerial Debate occurred without the only parties that have produced Prime Ministers is not insignificant. The opposite could not be truer. While the content of the debate admittedly did little to thoroughly familiarize us with the parties’ philosophies, it did indicate the chance of inter-party cooperation in a multi-party system between these two alternative parties.
The BPF’s Nancy Marin posed this to the BPP’s Patrick Rogers, who enthusiastically agreed.
In his opening remarks, the BPP’s Patrick Rogers describes Belize, as a result of the pandemic, as having arrived at a point in history that was neither anticipated nor desired. Similarly, the emergence of multiple parties competing in contemporary Belizean party politics was neither anticipated nor desired.
The present political framework of Belize lends itself to models imposed by the British during the transition to independence.
Accordingly, Belizean politics has been, by design, dominated by two distinct parties. It is the dogma of any party to endure and dominate, and in doing so, fulfill their objectives: naturally, multiple parties threaten the footing of the larger.
While multiple parties are not entirely necessary, and a two-party system is certainly a satisfactory mode of governance, would Belizeans benefit from a multi-party system? Do past incidents of the major parties fumbling the ball really necessitate a sidestep from the conventional? What does this say about how we perceive our democracy?
Any lay analyst may forecast the inevitable victory of a major party this coming election. Those parties, of course, have matured, retained a cultivated rank and file, and possess tested machinery.
But while these parties are alive and kicking, the flow of information becomes faster daily, the social and political consciousness of the masses advances, and the conventional political practices are becoming worn out.
It is likely that these alternative parties will not perform as the major traditional parties have in the immediate future. The coming election results and their connotations will be critical to understanding the maturity of our political atmosphere.
The takeaway from this otherwise typical occurrence is to recognize the trends that may alter the norms of local electoral politics and the distribution of power in Belize.
Likewise, major political parties should consider more carefully the implications of their participation, or lack thereof, in these events, as their textbook tactics may prove to be from outdated editions.