In Week 2, village council elections remain hotly contested
The second week of village council elections in 2010 is complete, and the results were mixed, to say the least.
Some of the emerging trends seen in the polling thus far are (1) that the UDP appear to be dropping villages they picked up for the first time in 2007; (2) the PUP are gaining steadily, but unevenly; and (3) that voters are saying they are tired of “politics as usual,” and the politicians, for once, are taking notice.
Amandala began our election coverage on Sunday in what is unofficially Belize’s largest village, Trial Farm in the Orange Walk District, with over 4,000 voters.
At the Trial Farm Government School where the poll took place, the school yard was a sea of red and blue, mainly red, around 9:30 a.m., as voters waited for the polls to open and nominations of opposing chairmen and councilors were being taken in one of the rooms.
Deputy Prime Minister and Orange Walk North area representative, Hon. Gaspar Vega, played the role of political campaigner and organizer on Sunday morning, gathering his troops and deploying them to the other four villages he was contesting on Sunday — San Antonio, Santa Cruz, San Luis and San Roman (Rio Hondo), all further north on the Northern Highway.
Hon. Vega told us that he believed voters would be convinced to come out to the polls by the “tremendous work” being done in the area by the UDP, and added that, after trouncing the blue 3-1 in villages won last week, he was confident that he could “increase [the Party’s] gains” made in the elections of 2007.
And while Trial Farm was the largest village up for grabs on Sunday, the PUP would not give up without a fight. Servulo Baeza, former Orange Walk North area representative and Minister, who was acting as the PUP’s campaign coordinator for the area, countered Hon. Vega’s claims by stating he believed that “national issues”, such as the steadily rising cost of living, which he said affects voters on a daily basis, would turn the tide in the blue’s favor.
“From the time I was conceived I was born red,” Raymond Hendricks, 48, UDP supporter in Trial Farm, told us. “When the PUP was in power, the youths were neglected. Since Gaspar Vega won, we now have better streets. If the UDP lose, we will hurt.”
Refuting allegations that the UDP were intimidating, coercing and wooing voters out to the polls with money and beer, he continued: “We don’t intimidate people. It’s the PUP that intimidate.”
But first-time contender Gerardo Lopez, a PUP candidate in Trial Farm, disagreed: “The villagers chose me, because they saw in me a positive, working and responsible man. I am confident. We plan to raise funds and we are not waiting for the Government, because we want to work for the community.”
Lopez told us that the key issues that people in Trial Farm are concerned with are “giving and taking away of land, streets, water and light.”
There were few hiccups, and polls opened across the nation at 10:00 a.m. (though according to our Caye Caulker correspondent, there was a 20-minute delay in opening nominations and polls, which opened half an hour later than the scheduled start time on the island.)
By 1:30 p.m. it was confirmed to Amandala that San Roman in Orange Walk had come in uncontested for the UDP, and Santa Cruz, San Luis, and San Antonio, where polls closed at 3:00, soon followed.
San Estevan, in the Orange Walk Central constituency, declared as winner an independent slate led by longstanding chair Fidelmar Hernandez (who has held that post for 9 years), joined by Ranulfo Palomo, Marcos Osorio, Ean Rodriguez, Noelia Sandoval, Emmanuel Flores, and Ignacio Munoz, while San Jose Palmar came in for the PUP, leaving results pending only for Trial Farm, where polls closed at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. (Reports are that voting in Palmar was briefly delayed earlier in the day by a fight at the polling station.)
We understand that the counting in Trial Farm was long, and reports are that Vega got into fisticuffs with a PUP supporter there, but in the end, he made it five for five in his division with a Trial Farm sweep.
Vega had explained to Amandala earlier on Sunday why he thought the UDP would win there: “Not all expectations have been met, but we have put in the resources. We have done more for this area in 2 years than the PUP did in ten.”
Caye Caulker independent, River Valley disputed
It was a different story in the Belize District. In Caye Caulker, a total of 20 candidates – five for chairperson and fifteen for councilor positions – offered themselves for election, including incumbent chair Ralph Humes (for councilor) and Costa Maya Resort owner Julian Rosado (also for councilor).
Those elected were Alberto “Beto” Villanueva, chairman, with 253 votes; councilors, Laura Beatriz Chi (352); Marilyn Alarcon (265); Erico Novelo, Jr., (295); Miguel Angel Neal (308); Fernando Sosa (215); and Francis Staine (250). Villanueva was one of only two candidates claiming UDP support, in his case from Belize Rural South area representative Manuel “Junior” Heredia.
It was decided among villagers on the island, we are told, that politics would be kept out of the election, a decision PUP party chair Carolyn Trench-Sandiford told Amandala on Sunday morning they had no problem respecting. She added that the PUP would organize slates only where they were called upon by locals to do so.
In the River Valley, according to Arthur Saldivar, the PUP’s area campaign manager, Double Head Cabbage went uncontested by either party (Indeed, in what Saldivar called a “silent protest,” no one came out to vote and an independent slate was elected.) and the PUP did not put up slates in Bermudian Landing nor Flowers Bank, both claimed by the UDP. The UDP had no slate in Rancho Dolores, where there were two slates with PUP supporters, and where Alden Hubert Rhaburn defeated his opponent for chairman, 71-22.
In the remaining villages, all contested, the PUP claimed split councils in Lemonal (6-1) and Willows Bank (4-3). Isabella Bank, St. Paul’s Bank and Scotland Halfmoon were the only contested villages won outright by either side – the first by the red (39-20, 1 spoilt ballot), the latter two by the blue in what Saldivar called a “landslide”.
Not surprisingly, the UDP have a different take. Belize Rural North area representative and Minister of State Edmond Castro told Amandala this evening that the Double Head Cabbage slate was in fact theirs (according to him, the PUPs did not want to run) as well as Lemonal and St. Paul’s, and said that Scotland Halfmoon and Willows Bank’s slates were independent, not PUP.
In the case of Scotland, the elected chair, one Landy Dawson, has informed the UDP that he is withdrawing his support for the Opposition.
According to Saldivar, Hon. Castro was given “a failing grade”, as voters had issued “a blatant rejection of (his) political pandering and attempts to [gain the support of] the people of the Valley by showing up just before the elections.”
Nonetheless, Saldivar told us that “far more harm than good” has been done to the Valley by the politicization of village councils and said he believed the councils should work for all villagers.
Few gains for Blue in South
In Stann Creek the UDP lost several major villages, including Hon. Melvin Hulse’s hometown of Silk Grass (where the PUP candidate for chairperson outpolled the UDP candidate 167-93), and Hopkins in a 6-1 split, and only managed to win Sittee River in a split (where they obtained the chair, but a minority of two seats) and Santa Cruz and Seine Bight outright.
Rodwell Ferguson, Sr., former PUP area representative for Stann Creek West, told us there had been a dispute in Placencia over one candidate for chairman, Charles Leslie, Jr., regarding his identification and appearance on the voters’ list. The UDP are claiming Placencia in their list of victories, but Ferguson told us that in fact the PUP won there 4-3, and that Leslie took 198 votes for chairman, defeating UDP candidates Glenford Eiley and incumbent Brian Yearwood, who polled 120 and 49 votes, respectively, according to our sources.
Candidates with PUP leanings presented themselves as independents to draw votes from across the political spectrum, we are told. The UDP reportedly brought some of their big names, including Belmopan rep Hon. John Saldivar, to help the Hulse campaign.
In Toledo, where 13 villages contested elections on Sunday, the results were another mixed bag.
Boom Creek, the smallest of the contested villages in Toledo East, went uncontested to the UDP, and the PUP lost Cattle Landing, Eldridgeville, Forest Home and Santa Ana, the latter in a 5-2 split.
According to Mike Espat, former Toledo East rep, Cattle Landing, Eldridgeville and Forest Home are majority East Indian, and traditionally UDP, and so it would have been an upset had they managed to win any of them.
In Toledo West, Big Falls went UDP in a 4-3 split; Aguacate went 4-3 UDP; Mafredi, another traditionally UDP village, was swept by the red and Mabilha went 4-3 PUP. The blue also claimed victories in Blue Creek (5-2) and San Benito Poite and Santa Teresa in a sweep.
In Jordan, the PUP lost the overall majority 4-3, but hold the chair. (The UDP are claiming Blue Creek and Mabilha and say Big Falls’ slate was independent.)
By the UDP’s count, they won 24 of 37 villages, with 8 going to the PUP and 5 independent (the PUP did not release an official count).
Amandala’s unofficial count shows 16 villages definitively won by the UDP, eight by the PUP and 2 independent, Caye Caulker and San Estevan. The eleven disputed villages are Double Head Cabbage, Scotland Halfmoon, Willows Bank, Lemonal, St. Paul’s Bank, Placencia, Blue Creek, Mafredi, Mabilha, Big Falls and Jordan.
When we called the UDP Secretariat this evening, we were informed that Secretary General Phillipa Griffith-Bailey was taking another call; when we called back later we were told she had left for the day.
Chair of the Election and Boundaries Commission, Alberto August, told Amandala this evening that the published results of the elections will not include references to party affiliation per the official view that the elections should be non-partisan, leaving the political questions hanging in the air.
PUP sources tell us that the Prime Minister has threatened to shuffle the Cabinet if the UDP do not do well in these elections.
August said he did not know of neither the late opening in Caye Caulker nor the Leslie challenge in Placencia and told us he would look into both. He also confirmed that Maritza Linarez, the losing PUP candidate for chairperson in Independence last Sunday, has challenged the result via a formal letter to the Commission.
Elections for village councils in all six districts will continue on Sunday, April 25. We will have details in the weekend edition of the Amandala.
(Janine Crawford reported for Amandala from Orange Walk. We would like to thank our correspondents in Caye Caulker (Louis Aguilar); Belize Rural North (Arthur Saldivar); Stann Creek (Rodwell Ferguson, Jr. and Sr.) and Toledo (Mike Espat).)