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Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Home Editorial The UDP set back our democracy

The UDP set back our democracy

In one month’s time Belizeans who have qualified as electors will be going to the polls to choose a new government, and during this month the report card and promises of the UDP (the party that has been governing since 2008), and the plans of the PUP (the other major party in Belize), as well as the vision of the two third parties, the BPP and the BPF, and independent candidates, will be under the microscope.

In regards to the two parties that are most likely to form the next government, the amount of attention that the UDP, if that leopard hasn’t changed its spots, will focus on its perceived achievements and its plans will be almost equal to the focus it will give to the perceived failures of past administrations of the PUP, and the PUP will be focusing on the corruption in recent UDP governments, and on the economy, which is desperately in need of resuscitation.

The economy is always at or very near the top of the list of concerns for voters, and this year the economy is of increased importance because for five consecutive quarters our economic output has fallen, and since the COVID-19 pandemic things have gotten much worse. Our staple agro-industries are not performing that well, and our tourism industry has completely collapsed.

At some point before this general election, we must look in some depth at the economic performance of the last government, and the economic philosophies of all the parties/individuals that are running in this general election on November 11, but today we turn our scrutiny to another critical area, the governance of our country. This places the UDP in the crosshairs, since they have been holding the reins of government for the last thirteen years.

The PUP and the two third parties have put much focus on what they would do to improve our governance systems, and the UDP hasn’t. Maybe the UDP hasn’t forwarded any ideas in that area because the party hasn’t earned the right to do so. These UDP governments of 2008-2012, 2012-2015, and 2015-2020, have a woeful record on governance. The party has trampled our democracy, and thus effectively reduced the power of the people.

Very early in the first of their three consecutive administrations, the UDP set about instituting political reforms to deliver on some of their major promises to the Belizean people in their “Imagine the possibilities” 2008 manifesto, which included a three-term limit for prime ministers, a recall mechanism for elected officials who had let down the people, and a 13th senator. The UDP was not sincere about a couple of those reforms.

The UDP had been in opposition from 1998 to 2008, and their leaders promised the people that they wouldn’t be like the PUP, which they said was corrupt. They weren’t any distance along the road in improving our governance when they discovered that democracy demanded a lot of hard work and they didn’t have the capacity, the energy, or the integrity to see it through.

The Public Accounts Committee, a dysfunctional body, continued being a disappointment under the UDP, because the party insisted that its members remain the majority. For years the UDP government couldn’t find persons who were willing to be members of the Integrity Commission, and when they did, the majority of persons they found were beholden to the party, persons who wouldn’t rigorously investigate the financial activities of the political leaders who appointed them to the commission. The important office of Contractor General remained vacant for almost two years.

The mechanism for the recall of elected officials was undermined with an amendment to the Referendum Act which called for 60% of registered voters to participate in the referendum. This meant that both the major parties would have to collude to get a valid vote. The 60% threshold was removed before Belizeans voted in the referendum on whether to give the ICJ the authority to settle Guatemala’s claim against our territory.

One of the UDP government’s worst blows against our democracy was its refusal to give the go-ahead for the appointment of the 13th senator, until they were forced to do so by the BNTU in 2016. It had been agreed that the 13th senator would come from the NGO groups, and this would give the opposition and independent senators (7), a majority over the government’s members (6).

The NGOs had tabbed Mr. Greg Ch’oc, the Executive Director of SATIIM, as their choice. At the time, the government was obsessed with exploring for offshore oil, and it was known that they would not get any support from the NGOs for what most Belizeans considered a shocking enterprise.

No one expected these seven non-government members to be of one mind, they being representatives of very disparate groupings, but, in instances where the government pushed a very bad agenda, for example offshore drilling, there was hope that the will of the people would prevail.

The UDP reneged on the promise, and when the BNTU forced them to bring to fruition the promised appointment of a 13th senator, they conspired with a minor faction of the churches to install a representative from that group who was in their hip pocket.

Fascinatingly, the church senator the UDP “appointed” said he felt his obligation to the Upper House, to our democracy, was to keep the peace.

In 2008 only Queen’s Square voted against an elected Senate

When Belizeans went to the polls in the 2008 general election, they were also invited to vote in a referendum on whether they supported the idea of an elected Senate, a proposition that was being supported by the PUP.

The UDP won a massive victory in the 2008 general election, 25 seats to 6 seats, and 61% of the voters supported the elected Senate over the present appointed Senate. 45,057 voted YES for the elected Senate, while 26,793 voted NO. Queen’s Square was the only division in the country to vote NO to the elected Senate, 53% to 47%.

A total of 121,168 electors (77% of registered voters) voted in the general elections, while 73,213 electors (47%) voted in the referendum. There are a number of possible explanations for the lower participation in the referendum on the elected Senate.

Serious discussion on the elected Senate started late, and it did appear that a PUP government that had fallen out of favor was using it to bolster their chances in the general election. Because of the late start to the discussion, many people had not made up their minds about the matter before the election. The UDP had proposed the 13th senator, and they had encouraged their supporters to boycott the referendum on the elected Senate, to delegitimize it.

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