As I watch the drama unfolding in the elections in the Unites States of AmeriKKKa, I cannot help but to think how often the US-Based Carter Centre has sent out observer missions in other countries to ensure their elections are fair and democratic.
However, right in their backyard, they have been unable to stop a sitting president from casting aspersions over the integrity of their own voting process, and now that he seems to be losing, he is crying foul and wants the counting of ballots to stop.
I once thought the USA was the greatest democracy, with checks and balances in place to ensure fair elections, full participation in voting and counting of ballots without intimidation; and systems in place to ensure leaders could remain transparent and accountable.
However, under President Trump, institutions that once appeared independent and professional have become as political as the appointment of CEOs in Belizean politics. The US democracy is a farce, and yet they want to tell our little banana republics what to do. They have lost the high moral ground to do so, and the whole world is observing them now.
Their politics is as nasty as ours, and their leaders as corrupt as ours, and this election places them under the microscope.
Democracy presupposes that you have a highly educated, intelligent, involved and aware citizenry, that act, not on hearsay and gossip, but facts, because they read and research and question things.
It presupposes that the citizens are aware of their political system, laws and civilized processes; however, AmeriKKKA is no way close to that, as is now evident by their blind following of political rhetoric that makes no sense.
For example, why would right-thinking citizens believe that only votes counted on election night are valid, and that vote-counting cannot continue days after election day, when it is a fact that millions of ballots were cast and need counting?
What kind of mind thinks that not all ballots are to be counted? Does this mean that they believe that voters are to be disenfranchised?
It’s appalling to look from afar and see the mess of a nation they are, yet they meddle in the elections of Venezuela, and other South American and Central American and even African countries they deem below their pedigree… but now we are seeing them for what they are!
Election in Belize
Now in a week’s time, it is our turn to go to the polls in Belize, and the drama of our election is nothing new. It is a known fact that the Representation of People’s Act says that any gift from a politician in excess of BZ$20 in value is a bribe and is illegal.
Thus, basically, a T-shirt is all a politician should be able to give you leading up to elections in Belize.
However, this law has never been enforced, and our people have now become accustomed to being bribed to vote and remain loyal to a party. It’s all about self-interest, and not the greater good of the process and creating and installing leaders of integrity and some level of moral conscience. It’s as though voters do not care what skills the leaders bring to ensure good governance and fair distribution of the nation’s resources; rather, they focus on only what they can get immediately… it’s all about the now!
The items now given out by politicians are land papers for lands often taken from others, or in inaccessible areas; landfill to fill the swamps in which constituents live; plywood to “board up” their uninhabitable homes; refrigerators, stoves, hams and turkeys, and you all know the list of things.
In many instances, constituents even ask for their water, light and phone bills — and even their children’s school fees —to be paid, and some settle for a handout of a food basket now and then. It’s like we the voters do not demand better because we willingly stretch out our hands and take “under the table” tidbits instead of questioning why would a leader be so willing to give us a handout to secure our votes, but once in office, does not make decisions to create systems and processes that can benefit the collective interest of citizens.
Ask yourself, why would you trust a leader who is willing to buy your votes? If that is the path he or she takes to get in office, how can you expect any better conduct while in office? Do you wonder where all that money they are spending pre-election comes from, and how they will recover it?
It is a given fact that in Belize, many only vote in the last hours after “shaking down” the politicians for actual cash to vote. Yes, they wait for the politician to get desperate, and in the last two hours, if they get the monies they want, they then vote.
This is a growing trend, and one I have seen firsthand in Belize City after years of covering elections as a journalist. Voters have often boasted and shown me the blue note, and some even boast of getting from both sides, but refuse to denounce it and go on record.
So this is not a phenomenon unique to the PUP or UDP only… they both are guilty of it, and it seems neither can now secure power without lowering themselves to the demand of voters come election day.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that once they are in office, they must make up back that money they had to pay out, most likely from someone else, to whom they are now beholden. There are no campaign financing laws in Belize, so we have no way of tracing where our politicians get their funding and cannot determine how people who once were even jobless, can afford to run a well-financed campaign, with no money on the books to show what is the source of income.
My people, if your political aspirant can get away with not disclosing what he or she does to get power and run for office and with whom he/she is aligned to get money to run in an election, and you do not question it, then you cannot expect that once they have power, their lack of transparency will not continue.
That which was born in lack of transparency and accountability will not suddenly become transparent and accountable. It is we, the voters, who must demand better, but it seems the majority have become satisfied with only looking out for the now, and have given up on the idea that there can be a better future or a brighter tomorrow for us as a collective society, if we demand leaders with those qualities.
My vote … how I reason it out!
I have never been secret about my preferred support for the United Democratic Party (UDP). When I first started to vote, it was at a time when there was a need to break the then over twenty years of the People’s United Party (PUP) stronghold of leadership on our country pre-independence and post-independence.
It was as if George Price had become a permanent fixture and we had no other viable leader, and this, for me, was not a good sign, and like the youths of my time, I wanted change.
The UDP was the only other option, and for me, it was critical to do anything to have a changing of the guard. The UDP had no experience holding office, but the PUP, which had always held power, was steeped in its ways of creating anarchy, and we needed the UDP to rise to the challenge and oust them.
Manual Esquivel did just that from 1984 to 1989, but, while in my view he wanted to do right for the country, too many of his ministers for the first time tasted power, and were totally out of control, and wasted no time in showing how corrupt they, too, could be.
After the following elections, the PUP ruled again, from 1989 to 1993, and from that point on, it seemed as if every five years, we, the people, would just have to “change monkey for black dog,” as we say in our colloquial language.
However, when Said Musa became leader, it was, in my view, one of the worst periods of governance, and he, sadly, did not bring the transparency, accountability and good governance many of us had hoped for, especially given his young, vibrant candidates who won that election.
He and Ralph Fonseca had a stronghold on the party, and from my vantage point, it was a leadership mired in scandals and corrupt deals, and the fleecing of the public purse.
Thus, it came as no surprise when the 2005 civil unrest erupted, and we, the people, called for change. I had just finished law school that year, and hoped to see him ousted immediately.
In 2008, while I had not returned to being a serving member of the UDP, whose ranks I had formally joined in 1998, after which I was appointed a senator, I, too, wanted the PUP ousted, as the level of impropriety was sending our country down a rabbit hole and we needed it to be rescued.
I therefore made sure that I threw my support behind the Dean Barrow-led UDP and persuaded family and friends and anyone I could influence, to make a change and vote UDP. I was optimistic that Dean Barrow, being an attorney, would know and do better, and that he would have a heart for the people.
By his first term I was disappointed, and saw a cementing of power beyond what the former PUP had done (THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT THE PUP ARE EXONERATED IN MY BOOKS… THEY ARE NOT!).
Barrow served three terms packed in only 12 years instead of 15 years, but the aftermath he has left behind is nothing to be proud of, in a nation that needed building, and whose systems and structures of good governance needed building.
My disappointment cannot even fit in these pages as I write, because he was the only political leader I ever got close enough to, and worked along with. Initially, while I had my doubts about his character, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and joined the UDP under his leadership.
After these elections, I will write more about his legacy of nepotism, ingrained corruption and an unforeseen level in the country of poverty, unemployment and dependency of the masses on his handouts (when, instead, he should have groomed independent, productive citizens who could stand their own.)
Today, we have electoral divisions that are comparable to garrisons, especially in Belize City’s southside where the UDP strongholds remain, thanks to Dean Barrow, who is now installing his son and sister in political office! Dangerous!
Our Options… my choice
The truth is, at this stage of my life where I have lived to see both major political parties in action, I cannot say one will be better than the other. If I thought the PUP was corrupt under Said Musa, I saw the UDP build on that corruption and perfect that corruption under Dean Barrow, and whenever taken to task, they justified their conduct by pointing to what the PUP (which we had voted out in 2008) did before… Lord help us!
Both these former Prime Ministers of this country are attorneys and both, I assumed, knew better about good governance; I was wrong! After 12 years of the UDP only cementing their personal power and enrichment and practicing the highest level of nepotism and cronyism that I have seen, what are our options, Belize?
Sadly, my thinking, which seems to mirror the thinking of many voters, is that we just have to get the UDP out now! This decision is not so much because we think the PUP has changed its ways, because we see the spectre of the same old faces and their successors.
However, if we leave the UDP in for one more term, who knows if we will have a country to save? Johnny Briceño does not represent the strongest leadership material in the PUP, but for now, he is the other option, backed and surrounded by smart, powerful people, whom I pray will give good advice in the interest of country, and not self-interest.
The two other political parties are not yet sufficiently built to withstand this storm.
So it pains me to see how I have to reason out a choice, and I feel betrayed by the party I so supported and wanted to see bring meaningful change in the interest of the masses and not the cronies.
I guess our politics is not about the people, because if it was, with all the promises made, today the people would not be in any dilemma as to whom to vote for. They would not have such high rates of poverty, unemployment, poor health care, failing education and lack of access to resources to actualize self-development.
I cannot guarantee that the PUP will bring change, but for now, shuffle them regularly so as not to allow any of these parties to ever cement their power again, and in the process their corruption! (I write that with tears in my eyes.)
I can see the PUP winning because we, the people, just have to vote the UDP out of power this time around. I am an independent-minded person and can vote in the bigger interest of country… can you?