In an interview with Adele Trapp aired Tuesday night on her KREM Radio/TV show, former United Democratic Party (UDP) Leader and a UDP Cabinet Minister from 1984-1989, Dean Russell Lindo, suggested that the UDP could well be returned to office with a greater seat majority than the 25-6 they won in 2008. Mr. Lindo’s is a very highly respected political mind, and it must be the case that he is seeing indicators from his UDP perspective which lead him to such a speculation.

When there have been landslide general election victories in Belize’s post-independence era, it is safe to say that Belize’s independent voters have contributed heavily to the winning party’s margin, and, more than that, a certain amount of the losing party’s voters actually went against their own party. There is a greater amount of dissidence in the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) ranks than there has ever been, but this may be less important than the issue of offshore oil drilling. Offshore oil drilling is an issue which resonates with independent voters. The UDP have to be careful.

Before this 2012 general election campaign began, there were similarities with the opening of the 1993 campaign. In 1993 the PUP appeared unified and well-financed, as the UDP appear to be in 2012. And, in 1993 the UDP/NABR coalition seemed quite shaky, as the PUP have been, even as we speak. The 1993 campaign experienced a shift in momentum in the last two weeks because of the UDP’s free land and free education promises. So, we are watching these last two weeks of the 2012 campaign with great interest.

Polls have indicated that independent voters may be around one third of those who will vote on March 7. Independent voters may be a larger percentage of the electorate than they have ever been in Belizean politics, and when you factor in the 18-year-old vote, introduced in 1978, these two voting blocs account for increased volatility possibilities in political behavior.

If the election results are closer than the UDP strategists project, or if the UDP actually lose, then the offshore oil drilling matter will have to be considered one of their problems. The UDP have handled this issue badly, and we are amazed. Yes, the prospect of a Ralph/Said return to power over Belize’s public finances will play a major pro-UDP role in March 7 voting, but the UDP cannot afford to be overconfident when dealing with Belizean voters. High ranking officials and spokesmen of the UDP, from the Prime Minister on down, have been categorically sounding what looks like a UDP party line: Drill, we will!

The Oceana campaign to stop the drilling for petroleum in Belize’s offshore areas, likely lost some of its momentum when it was broadened to include protected land areas. Even though more Non-Government Organizations got on board because of the inclusion of opposition to drilling in “protected areas,” protected areas were not as immediately emotional an issue as the Barrier Reef, especially in the media capital. Again, the Oceana spokesperson and chief executive officer, the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, began to spread herself thin in that she branched out from the core issue into all kinds of socio-political discussions. The fact of the matter is, nevertheless, that the movement to stop oil drilling in Belize’s territorial seas was an energetic and emotional movement, and this is an issue which is not only romantic and sentimental where nature is concerned, there are hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Belize’s fishing and tourism industries which have to be skeptical, indeed nervous, about offshore drilling.

The UDP statements on the need for Belize to drill for oil have not been careful to differentiate between drilling for oil in unprotected areas and drilling in natural parks/protected areas. The UDP statements have not been careful to differentiate between drilling for oil on land and drilling for oil in sea. The UDP statements have not been careful to present statistical arguments to prove that the drilling is not as dangerous as the conservationists have been arguing.

The UDP have adopted the position that, because Belize and Belizeans are poor, and oil is a known financial panacea, then it’s a case of full speed ahead. The UDP have not appreciated the historical fact that we Belizeans have a heavy maritime tradition: to put it bluntly, the settlement of Belize, as we know it, was established by pirates at the mouth of the Belize Old River. The Caribbean Sea and the Belize Barrier Reef are integral parts of who we are as Belizeans. That is why the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes section of the Heads of Agreement was not taken lightly in 1981. That section was a major cause of the uprising. “Use and enjoyment,” indeed!

Power to the people.