A little over six months ago the United Democratic Party (UDP) had the majority in the House of Representatives, and everyone who knows the political realities in our country is aware that this meant the party’s leaders had near unchallenged power. Belize chose to continue the Westminster System when it became an independent country in 1981, and term after term, with few exceptions, successive governments have eroded that highly respected and functional system until all the honor has been washed out of it.
No party disappointed the people of Belize more than the UDP when it came to power in 2008. The previous administration, the People’s United Party (PUP), featured a few powerful individuals who were not very honest when their party had control of our finances and natural resources, and the UDP came to power on a promise to improve our governance so that no leaders would ever again be able to raid our resources with impunity.
The UDP failed to address the serious governance issues, and gradually, over its terms (3) in office, it became just like or worse than the ones whom we and they had condemned. The party was shellacked in the general elections in November 2020, 26 to 5, and again in the municipal elections in March 2021, 65 to 2, and now finds itself in major disarray.
The party’s leadership problems began over a matter of succession, and it began prior to the 2020 general elections. Belize’s Constitution only allows a political leader to hold the seat of prime minister for three terms, and the UDP’s leader, Dean Barrow, had sat as prime minister after leading his party to three consecutive general election victories.
Barrow, an astute and committed politician, secured his victories by taking advantage of an ideological war inside the main opposition party, PUP; spending soft loan funds derived from the Alba Petro Caribe Program and royalties/taxes from recently discovered oil wells in Spanish Lookout on glitzy projects that created the illusion that his party was growing the economy; and calling a snap election that got his party past the post in the 2015 general elections before the horrible details of the transaction to get back BTL (Belize Telemedia Ltd.) were revealed.
Replacing its most successful leader with respect to election victories has been difficult for the UDP and great theater for the people. When the selection of a new leader of the UDP became necessary, all eyes were on Hon. Patrick Faber and Hon. John Saldivar, and it was a near certainty that one of the two would emerge with the crown. Those two joined the UDP as youths; by the 1990s they had emerged as favorites of the party, and in 2003 both of them entered and became permanent residents in the House.
Barrow, however, apparently favored a senator, Hon. Mike Peyrefitte, to become the new leader of the party. Peyrefitte, who didn’t have a seat in the House of Representatives, was aiming to become the standard bearer for the UDP in Port Loyola and, realizing that success for Peyrefitte could negatively impact the aspirations both shared, Faber and Saldivar became bedfellows and threw their support behind Philip Willoughby, who was running against Peyrefitte. Willoughby won.
Barrow retired from electoral politics, but he wasn’t done with holding influence over the party. He installed his sister, Denise Barrow, as standard bearer in the Queen’s Square Division, which he had won in eight consecutive general elections, and he installed his son, Moses “Shyne” Barrow, as standard bearer in Mesopotamia, the stomping grounds of Moses Barrow’s uncle, Michael Finnegan, who was also retiring.
Faber and Saldivar faced off at the Belize Civic Center in Belize City in February 2020 for the vacant post of leader of the UDP, and with Moses Barrow and Denise Barrow putting their support behind Saldivar, he was victorious. However, mere days after gaining the prize he had sought so feverishly, Saldivar had to step down after evidence surfaced that he had lied to the Prime Minister about his association with a US felon, Lev Dermin.
Inexplicably, Saldivar ran again when the UDP held a subsequent convention, in July 2020, to choose a new party leader, but this time the Barrows, Denise and Moses, threw their support behind Faber, who won a closely contested race. Stale, corrupt to the marrow, and divided, Faber and the UDP were trounced in the general elections in November 2020, and the municipal elections in March 2021.
As leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Faber has been unable or unwilling to get into bed with leaders of the UDP who are perceived to have become some of the worst crooks in the country when they held office, and he has been dogged by volatile relationships with women. The people of Belize don’t consider Faber to be corrupt, which is a plus, but his not compromising with the wing of the UDP who are happy to say they are not as corrupt as the PUP, has him out on a limb.
Opportunists, or his enemies, moved to remove Faber as leader of the UDP after a tape emerged which showed him in an unseemly domestic situation with the mother of one of his children. This week Hon. Moses Barrow took a letter to the Governor General to inform her that Faber no longer enjoys the support of the majority of the UDP members in the House and that he should be anointed as the new Leader of the Opposition. Faber, shortly, will also be tested at a convention after 290 delegates of the party signed a recall petition because, they say, his personal conduct, in respect to certain relationships with women, makes him unfit to serve the party as leader.
The UDP is in disarray, in an all-out war between a group that says it isn’t as corrupt as the PUP which the people ousted in 2008, and a group that might not be pro-good-governance but is clearly not hell- bent on robbing the country’s assets. Because of the depth of the division within the party, it is likely that a consensus leader will not emerge for some time yet.
The rumble within UDP ranks has created a vacuum, one that one or all of the third parties in the country would have been able to capitalize on, if their viability wasn’t severely curtailed by our stifling first-past-the-post electoral system. So they, like the rest of us, can only stand on the sidelines gawking at the spectacle of this former monster—in total disarray.