Thursday, December 8, 2011

Many Caribbean countries are calling early elections and Belize might do the same

By Wellington C. Ramos

Under the constitutions of most countries that got independence from Great Britain, there is no fixed date to call general elections for members of the House of Representatives to serve their five year terms. Also, the prime minister or the president of the country is not elected by the people through a direct vote. The party that gains the majority of votes in the House of Representatives forms the new government and the leader of the party automatically becomes the prime minister or president.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and HistoryWith this type of arrangement, anybody who want to become the prime minister or president of the country, must seek a seat in the House of Representatives, win the seat and plus try to become a leader of his or her party at the party’s leadership convention. If this person wins the leadership of his party and loses his or her seat in the general election, that person cannot be the prime minister or president of the country but shall retain his or her position as party leader until the party holds its next convention. The elected members of the party from among themselves shall then decide who will be their party’s prime minister or president and then give his or her name to the governor general of the country.

In 1979 in Belize, Dean Lindo was the party leader but lost his seat to Said Musa so the party appointed Dr Theodore Aranda the leader of the party in the House of Representatives. He retained his title as party leader and, when the party convention was held, Manuel Esquivel was elected party leader because Dr Aranda had resigned from the party to head the Christian Democratic Party (CDP).

Elections were held in 1984 and the United Democratic Party (UDP) defeated the People’s United Party (PUP) by a margin of 21 to 7. In that election, a young politician by the name of Derick Aikeman defeated the leader of the People’s United Party George Price and Florencio Marin was appointed the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives while George Price retained his position as leader of the party. George Price stayed in that position from 1956 until he stepped down in 1996 a total of forty years. Florencio Marin competed for the position of leader of the party but was defeated by Said Musa and he was isolated from the party for many years until the last year of the PUP reign in 2007-2008.

In 1989, the PUP came back and won the election, so George Price became the prime minister again but they lost the elections in 1993 and Manuel Esquivel returned and became prime minister again. He resigned the post of leader in 1996 and was replaced by Said Musa who became the prime minister in 1998 when the PUP won the elections. Musa was elected for two consecutive terms until his party was defeated by the UDP in February 2008, when Dean Barrow became the prime minister.

Since taking over the leadership of the United Democratic Party, Dean Barrow has brought the party to the point where they have been winning elections and it is now a force to reckon with. The People’s United Party is currently fragmented and is being controlled by a few families, business people, interest groups and people of Arab descent and Belizeans are angry with this picture. More native Belizean ethnic groups such as the Creoles, Garifunas, Latinos, East Indians and Mayas are supporting the United Democratic Party today. The attempt by the PUP to portray the UDP as a party that is only for African Belizeans has failed miserably. When the UDP have their conventions you see all different type of Belizeans that makeup Belize.

This was clear based on the resounding victories the UDP have been enjoying since March 2006, when they won the municipal elections, village council elections and then climaxing with the general elections of 2008. The PUP has been saying that they are ready for general elections because they have all their thirty-one candidates in place. Having candidates and winning elections are two different things. The UDP can now call the elections whenever they feel like and I am of the opinion that they will do it shortly after the municipal elections are held in March of 2012.

Recently, elections were held in Guyana and the party in power lost the House of Parliament but retained the presidency. In Saint Lucia the UWP party that was in control lost the House of Representatives and the Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) headed by Dr Kenny Anthony returned to power by winning nine out of fifteen seats in the House of Parliament after about nine years as the opposition. Jamaican has elections scheduled for December 29 this year and Jamaicans are ready to go to the polls with their JLP government and their new Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

The Belize government has gotten the gangs under control and is working on a few economic initiatives to obtain funds to provide jobs for their citizens. Roads and bridges are under construction, a new airport is under construction, they have taken over the public utilities to increase government revenues, utility rates for the consumers are going to be reduced soon, new schools are being built and electricity will be provided to an additional 29 villages soon.

With all these efforts being made by the government, it is clear that the UDP government is getting ready to call elections soon. Before a prime minister of any country calls early elections, he or she must weigh the pros and cons on what are their chances of getting re-elected first. With the current financial state of the PUP, their fragmentation and their lack of a clear vision and direction, the UDP should so go ahead and take advantage of their situation because PUP did the same thing when they were in power. After years of being an opposition party it is now time for the UDP to remain the governing party.

December 8, 2011