Cardona wants re-vote in Palmar!

UDP Orange Walk East area representative, Hon. Marcel Cardona, is challenging the result of Sunday’s poll in San Jose Palmar Village, Orange Walk District, in a formal petition sent to the Election and Boundaries Commission today and received by Amandala.

Palmar was said to be the only village on Sunday in Orange Walk to elect a slate of seven from the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) – five villages in Orange Walk North all went UDP and in Orange Walk Central, San Estevan returned an independent slate, uncontested.

In a letter addressed to the chairman of the Commission, Alberto August, the area representative and attorney outlines 10 points of what he terms “gross violations” of the “sacred, democratic principle that all elections must be free, fair and by secret ballot, without undue influence…”

Cardona, supported by several petitioners, alleges that he witnessed several instances of undue influence of voters and improper conduct by election officials during the polling.

For example, Cardona says he saw vehicles “belonging to known members of the People’s United Party” dropping off persons near the polling station, the community center in Palmar, where others wearing PUP t-shirts or known to be party supporters, including former Orange Walk East rep Dave Burgos, escorted them to the head of the waiting line or even inside the polling station.

Cardona says that when he complained to election clerk Sendo Baeza about this alleged undue influence, Baeza told him that if a person enters and indicates that he needs assistance, the voter can indicate from whom he wants that assistance, and he/she is entitled to accompany the voter to the voting area, adding that these were “his directives from above,” and that he could do nothing more to assist.

Candidates in the election also allegedly escorted voters in to vote.

Between 2:30 and 3:00 Sunday afternoon, Cardona writes, he personally saw a “healthy-looking” young man, about 18, a student not appearing to be incapacitated, being escorted in by Burgos, who told the clerk that the young man needed help. The young man assented to the clerk’s questioning whether he did in fact need help, and he was handed two separate ballots.

Cardona alleges that the young man then gave Burgos the ballots, whereupon they walked to the voting area and Burgos allegedly bent over the table and appeared to start writing on the ballots as the young man stood looking on. Cardona believes Burgos appeared to be voting on the young man’s behalf.

Cardona, who was standing at the door of the polling station, entered and protested to Sendo Baeza, who waved him away, stating that the young man had indicated he needed help and that this was allowed under regulations.

Cardona says he further protested that this applied to clearly invalid, incapacitated or handicapped voters, and that in any case politicians such as Burgos should not actually do the voting, but the clerk turned him down.

The area representative went back outside and joined a group of disgruntled persons who had observed the scene. At this point, some PUP supporters nearby allegedly began shouting for Cardona to leave, and things quickly escalated into a scuffle that ended with police being called and the polling station’s doors locked, by Sendo Baeza’s request, for 10-15 minutes.

The politicians and their supporters were eventually asked to leave. (We understand that the police had some trouble throughout the day keeping supporters apart.)

Cardona maintains that the situation “clearly opened the door to the abuse and corruption of the electoral process, by the bribery of voters or the ‘confirmed buying’ of the ballots...” and called what he and others allegedly witnessed “repugnant to basic democratic principles that voting must be by secret ballot and without influence from others (especially politicians and those who have a vested interest in the election result, themselves...”

Cardona cites the Preamble to the Belize Constitution and the Village Council Elections Training Manual, which on page 14 cites the roles and responsibilities of polling agents and scrutineers as being: 1) to witness all aspects of the voting and counting processes except the marking of the ballot paper; 2) examining the ballot box and voting booth before the opening of polls; 3) to witness the marking of ballots of incapacitated voters; and 4) to bring to the attention of the election clerk/officer any action which they consider is not in accordance with the provisions of election rules.

He concluded that the actions of Burgos and others on Sunday was “clearly illegal,” and requests that the results be declared null and void and that a re-vote be held.

Additional statements by several villagers accompany and support Cardona’s letter to the Commission.

In speaking with Amandala tonight, August confirmed receipt of the petition, and said that it was the third formal challenge to the official results, after petitions from Independence and Maya Center, both villages in the Stann Creek District, where elections were held on April 11.

According to August, the Commission has not yet decided when it will take up these petitions, but if challenges to the results continue to come in, they would have no choice but to meet during the upcoming break, likely on May 9, as only one election will be held on that date.

If not, the petitions would be taken up after the close of elections on June 6. Either way, Section 14 of the election regulations declares that the Commission’s decision is final.

The members of the Commission (five) are appointed by the Governor General; 3 are selected with the advice of the Prime Minister, while 2 others are selected on the advice of the P.M. with the concurrence of the Leader of the Opposition. They are: Chairman, Alberto August; UDP Secretary General, Phillipa Griffith Bailey; attorney and former UDP leader, Senior Counsel, Dean R. Lindo; Senior Counsel, Derek Courtenay; and San Ignacio businessman, Orlando Espat.

According to August, there have been no formal complaints received from Placencia, which was bitterly contested by the main parties, or from Caye Caulker, where an independent slate won but the opening of nominations and polls were delayed by 20 and 35 minutes respectively.

August also confirmed that no petitions have been received from any villages in the disputed section of Amandala’s unofficial count from our Monday article.

Cardona, who was campaigning in Santa Martha Village in his constituency today ahead of an election there on Sunday, was not available for further comment.

The Opposition had an interesting take on Cardona’s petition. Servulo Baeza, PUP campaign coordinator for Orange Walk, told Amandala via telephone this evening that the call for a re-vote by Cardona was “ridiculous,” and that there would be no change in the results were it to happen.

But Baeza also admitted – and said Party Leader Hon. John Briceño had conceded such this morning on LOVE FM – that in fact, the winning slate in San Jose Palmar was independent of either party, and that the chairman had gone on local television in Orange Walk to say so. The PUP’s only role in the election, he told us, was to “assist” the slate on Sunday; the victory was not the PUP’s.

This would mean that the PUP has only one victory to their credit in Orange Walk after Sunday’s elections, in Nuevo San Juan; eight other villages were won by the UDP and San Estevan had likewise declared independent.

Sunday’s elections in Carmelita, Tower Hill, Santa Martha and Chan Pine Ridge now become critical for John Briceño and the PUP if they are to avoid overall defeat in the district. News editor for CTV-3 Television in Orange Walk Town, Alberto Vellos, told us that Carmelita and Chan Pine Ridge, in particular, will be closely watched.

In 2007, according to CTV-3’s archives, a coin flip decided the final slot on the council in Chan Pine Ridge when three candidates, two from the UDP and one from the PUP, received the same number of votes.

Lilia Zaiden, rural development coordinator, was quoted at the time as saying that this method of resolving ties was selected by the Ministry of Rural Development in agreement with the Solicitor General. The candidates were eliminated on the best two of three flips of the coin.

Newly elected chairman of Palmar, Orlando Balam, expressed surprise at Cardona’s move when we contacted him tonight by telephone.

“He can’t accept what happened – he was defeated because we hadn’t seen him do anything in this village in two years,” said Balam, who said he defeated his UDP opponent for chair by about 200 votes.

According to Balam, Palmar residents met in general assembly a few weeks ago and nominated a slate that transcends party lines, running against a Cardona-endorsed slate. During house-to-house campaigning, Balam alleges, Cardona and his slate were often dismissed from homes because people wanted to know “why would he come now, after two years of not having done anything?”

By contrast, Balam, an incumbent councilor and PUP supporter, says he was able to open new streets and do other things for his fellow villagers.

Balam was hesitant to directly comment on Cardona’s allegations or on whether he had PUP support on Sunday, but says of Burgos that he lives in the village and so had every right to be present at the election.

In Balam’s opinion, the voters of Palmar elected him based on his previous job performance, not personalities like Burgos and Cardona, and specifically nominated a slate to prevent political interference.

And it will be those voters, Balam concluded, who will decide his and his councilors’ fate.

http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=9753
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