Watergate was a political scandal resulting from the June 1972 discovery of a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D. C. The scandal resulted in the indictment, trial, conviction and incarceration of 43 people, including dozens of top Nixon administration officials. The scandal led to the resignation of Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, on August 9, 1974, the only resignation of a U.S. President.
Just as there are no restrictive guidelines in Belize where campaign financing is concerned, there are no rules which say what you can or can not do in political campaigning. Yes, there are overall societal laws which are on the books, but there are wild and wide open spaces in ethics, integrity, decency, and morality when it comes to what you should or should not do in electoral politics. The late Oakland Raiders’ coach and owner, Al Davis, distilled his thinking into three words: “Just win, baby.”
So far in the campaigning for the March 7 general and municipal elections, one thing that has struck us is the fact that the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) has targeted the two largest independent media houses in an attempt to influence the huge pool of uncommitted Belizean voters. What we see is a PUP focus on getting stories into the independent media which are favorable to their candidates and programs and, of course, unfavorable to the incumbent government and candidates of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
Over the last three weeks in particular, it has become clear to us that one of our newspaper employees had become fixated on a certain type of story with a certain kind of content. This employee, then, was no longer operating as an independent journalist: that employee was in search of a specific, pro-PUP sort of story. If it is the case that some PUP functionary had negotiated with that employee to have said employee perform special assignments for the PUP, that was a legal negotiation. The problem will not be the party’s: it would be a problem of ethics and integrity for that journalist.
The PUP Lake Independence standard bearer, Edmee Yolanda Galvez Schakron, accused the UDP on national television this week of breaking into her home and stealing one item – her United States passport. If this is true, then this is burglary, which would be a criminal act.
For those of you who are young students, you may be interested in doing research on the breaking and entering of the Watergate Hotel headquarters of the Democratic Party during the 1972 presidential campaign in the United States. This breaking and entering was done by Republican Party functionaries, and an alert watchman busted them. The Republican Party candidate, Richard M. Nixon, went on to win a second term of office in that 1972 campaign, but the investigation of the Watergate break-in reached as high as his Oval Office, and the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, had to resign. His political tactics in the Watergate matter had been criminal tactics.
Where the matter of the PUP tactic of targeting the independent media houses, a tactic we discussed in the second paragraph of this essay, we would say it is sensible, even good, politics. This newspaper does not like the tactic, but it is not illegal. From the standpoint of assessing the importance of uncommitted voters and seeking to influence them, we think the PUP has taken a lead on the UDP.
The UDP have spent much money and time in an effort to improve the impact of their party organs, especially their radio station, and they may have fallen in love with said organs. The PUP tactics, on the other hand, indicate that they are not experiencing any illusions where the reach of their newspaper and radio station are concerned.
The 2012 campaign, and we are focused on the general elections, is entering crunch time, and there is heightened sensitivity all around us. Tension and strain are growing. The most remarkable general election campaign and results we have ever seen took place in June of 1993. That campaign opened in the very beginning of June with a PUP victory appearing to be a sure thing. In the middle of the campaign, which is to say, with no more than a couple weeks to go, the UDP/NABR coalition, and all indications are that they were desperate, introduced the concepts of free education and free land as campaign promises. The concepts were not defined in crystal clear terms, and the promises must have appeared wild to the over-confident PUP. In any case, the PUP responses to the free education and free land promises were inadequate, as the election results proved. The UDP/NABR won a 16-13 upset victory on June 30, 1993.
Another interesting aspect of that campaign had to do with the fact that the PUP Leader, Rt. Hon. George Price, was unable to reply to the UDP/NABR Leader’s challenge to a public debate. Remember, the coming of KREM Radio had freed Belize’s airwaves in December of 1989, while American cable television, introduced in Belize in 1982, was all over the place here in 1993. There had never been such a public debate between the major party aspirants for national leadership, but there were enough Belizeans in 1993 who felt that the time had come. The PUP strategists decided that the aging Mr. Price would not come off well enough in radio/television debate with Mr. Esquivel, so they refused the challenge.
It was, no doubt, partly because of the PUP’s experience with that debate challenge in 1993, that they forced out Mr. Price and replaced him with the younger Said Musa three years later.
It will be intriguing to see if a public debate will take place between Hon. Dean Barrow and Hon. Francis Fonseca of the PUP in time for election day. They are both well-spoken attorneys, so that a debate between them would be a horse race exciting to all and sundry Belizeans. The beat goes on, and on …