Hon. Fonseca Says He Wonít Resign

62 seats to 5. That's how bad the UDP beat the PUP in yesterday's municipal elections. The UDP now fully controls eight of the country's nine town and city councils - before the election it only controlled six.

So, in its eighth year in Government, the UDP has confounded historical election trends and defied modern precedent, by actually gaining ground on the opposition PUP.

Before the election, the PUP held 23 seats and controlled three town councils; tonight it holds just five seats in a single town council, Orange Walk - where the margins were razor thin.

The defeat is epic - and this afternoon at Party Headquarters in Belize City, the Party had a meeting to discuss the loss. It invited the press into an Independence Hall crowded with supporters for a one hour briefing. Party Leader Francis Fonseca congratulated the UDP:...

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"I want to congratulate the United Democratic Party and all the elected mayors and councilors across the country. The people have spoken. The People's United Party accepts the decision of the people in their choice of stewards for their municipalities for the period 2015 - 2018. The PUP is moving quickly within the coming week, to comprehensively analyze the elections results, engaged in an open and frank self-examination, to regroup, unify and ready ourselves on every front for the likelihood of early general elections and to develop and implement without delay a plan for campaign financing."

Will there indeed be an early election? And will the party turn to Lord Ashcroft to address its campaign financing woes. We'll have the answers to those questions shortly - but first to the burning questions: will party leader Francis Fonseca be forced to resign because of this historic loss? That's what Jules Vasquez asked him today:..

Jules Vasquez
"In the wake of the quite enormous defeat that the PUP suffered, have you contemplated resignation?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"No sir. No.

Crowd chanting
"No"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Let me answer the question please. I apologize Jules. I think it's an absolutely fair, a valid, legitimate question. In the wake of any election defeat and certainly this was a very decisive defeat, a very decisive victory for the United Democratic Party, with potentially two years to come before a general election. I think everybody has to take a look at themselves and it starts with the leader. The leader has to look in the mirror. The leader has to self-examine, so I think that's an absolutely legitimate question, but I have given no thought to resignation."

Jules Vasquez
"It would suggest that it's more than just money. That it might be intangible, that maybe the people or the voters aren't convinced that the opposition as it is presently led or constructive, is viable enough to earn their vote."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"That's a fair question Jules and we have to examine all of that; what are we doing wrong; what are we doing right; Are we getting our message across?; are we delivering it properly? As I said earlier: what am I doing as a leader; what am I not doing? But I believe more than anything else what we need in our party today is a clear sense of purpose and unity among ourselves."

And while Fonseca spoke in platitudes about unity - really, the PUP lost because it had very little money to spread around. Say what you want about how money distorts democracy, but politics is a money game - and if you don't believe just examine how many cars, t-shirts, signs and campaign workers are in motion on an election day. Fonseca admits the PUP were significantly outmatched in terms of finance, but blamed it on Petrocaribe:...

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"We went into this elections with our eyes wide open. We understood that there was a huge imbalance, in terms of resources. We have consistently said, and I have consistently said that I believe that the line between the government treasury and the UDP coffers, have virtually disappeared. But we can't cry over it. There is no time for wining about that issue. We have to get up and fight."

Jules Vasquez
"And while I understand the PUP continues to harp on the wrongful use of public funds in campaigning."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Well I went out of my way to say I wasn't harping on it earlier."

Jules Vasquez
"Whatever. The fact is that you mentioned it and you said that you should not wine over it. However, it's a claim that is unsupported by fact, because the financial secretary, stands up on every occasion and says that the funds are properly spent - well accounted. Obviously you may have difference about the public projects..."

Crowd chanting

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Please, let's respect the journalists who are here."

Jules Vasquez
"I am saying, are you creating a voting on for public...."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"The government is abusing those funds. That is our view. The financial secretary, who represents the government, can say what he wants to say, but we have our right, a right to our view of the matter and our opinion."

Jules Vasquez
"But he has facts and you have opinion. That's my point."

But, short of Petrocaribe bucks, where will the PUP turn for campaign financing? The business owners who throw hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns want to sponsor a winner - and, right now, the PUP surely doesn't look like that. So then, would Lord Ashcroft finance the PUP? He told us last week that he believes in a thriving opposition, and would fund a party that is trying to put its case to the public. Does the PUP qualify? That's what we asked Fonseca today:

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"We have to determine ways of putting in place a very comprehensive campaign financing program for our party. That is the reality. We need more money than we have now, to adequately and properly fight these elections."

Jules Vasquez
"Would the party be prepared to accept campaign financing from Mr. Ashcroft and on what terms would you make such an agreement?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"That's a hypothetical that I do not wish to engage in at all Jules. I can say this to you that I have received no such offer from Mr. Ashcroft and there are no terms under which we accept monies as a party. I have made that very clear. We do not do so on any terms. There are no terms."

But, going back now to the election result - as we said - it defies all historical trends - which do not favor incumbents. Invariably, the longer a party is in government the more unpopular it becomes - and the more votes it loses. We saw that in 2012 when the UDP - in its fourth year in government - almost lost the general elections, and lost significant ground in the municipals. But, with the blowout in Cayo North in January, followed by this devastating defeat of the PUP - the UDP is turning conventional logic on its head, and gaining ground in elections it should be losing. That may be more of a reflection on the mediocrity of the PUP than it is a reflection of excellence in the UDP.

We asked the opposition leader today - how come the pendulum of political fortune is swinging in the wrong direction - and is it because of him:

Jules Vasquez
"What is strange about this is that the pendulum with Cayo North and now down south seems to be swinging in the opposite direction. It seems to be swinging in favor of the incumbent, which has never happened in our modern history - post Independence. Is this something that concerns you and are you aware of (it's a symptom) what is the cause and might you be the cause?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Obviously, it's a matter of concern Jules. That what I said earlier. I said that we in the People's United Party have to self-examine, we have to, in a comprehensive way analyze the results. Obviously, we are very disappointed with the results. We have to analyze it, but I am not going to stand here today and say that we have the answers to those questions. I think we have to take some time, look at it as a party - all of us sitting together around the table, listen to our candidates, bring them in - our mayoral candidates, our councilors and have a very thorough, open, frank, honest discussion."

Jules Vasquez
"At the last press conference, after the poor results in Cayo North, you express some conservative confidence about this election, but express certainty about the general election. Are you still as confident that if the general elections were to be held, that the PUP would win?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"Obviously Jules, the results of this election, gives you pause. You would be foolish not to pause after such results. So, we have to reflect on it. Obviously, my confidence is not where it was, because of the results of the elections yesterday. But once we analyze it, once we discussed it, once we have a thorough open, frank discussion in the party, then we would be in a better position to say where we stand as a party going into the next general elections."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, you said a full assessment would be done even on yourself, but would an assessment also be made on your candidates who failed to perform and indeed, standard bearers, elected representatives, they can't be challenged, due to a resolution of the party, including yourself and so shouldn't some of these people - we think of Mr. Ramos in Dangriga, we think of Mr. Espat in Toledo East - these persons who are elected representatives, who immune from challenge, in view of what happened in the elections - should they now opened to challenge?"

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"No. I don't think so. Listen, we have to look at it. This is no time for any searching for blood and finding blood. I think we have done a lot of work in these areas, so we understand some of the dynamics and as I said, out of this discussion, out of our analysis, will come a better understanding of where we have to go and the things that we have to fix. But I know all of these individuals. I worked very closely with them. They are all in my view, deeply committed people. This is not about attacking any individual. It is about approaching a problem as a unified party and finding a solution to those problems. I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves. I don't want us to be talking about looking for blame and looking for blood. Let's examine everything and at the end of the day, as I keep saying, everything will be on the table. If there is an open, frank discussion - if we sit together and people are open and frank with each other and we say listen, this is a problem with you Party Leader, this is a deficiency, a weakness we see in you - we have that type of discussion all the time by the way and we try to fix it."

Hon. Barrow Pleased, Avoids Gloating

We'll have more from Fonseca later, when we ask him how come he couldn't deliver victory for his mayoral candidate Yolanda Schakron in his home base of Freetown - and what he thinks of a secret recording where John Briceno is heard to be blasting him.

That's coming, but first to the UDP Party Leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow. He's bucking political trends - and this morning when we met him - he was still excited over the sweeping victory his party had secured at the polls. But, he was careful not to be triumphalist:..

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Recognizing that the temptation to become complacent. The temptation to sound cocky, must be resisted at all cost. That's number one. Also though, cautious because the burden of expectations is now correspondingly higher, given of the victory, both, in terms of the numbers of municipalities won and the individual margins in the particular municipality. So, extremely pleased. Extremely satisfied, but very conscious of the fact that there is still a tremendous job of work to be done."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you tempted to call a snap general election?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"No. For a couple of reasons and I am glad you ask the question, because, already I am hearing that fast booked, is saying that though general elections in 3 months - ain't going to happen. For two reason: 1). There is a plan of action on government's part that has been hatched well before the municipal elections and time is needed to implement that plan of action. 2). People, I believe, voted for us so overwhelmingly, because they are encouraged by what is happening with respect to physical transformation. With the help of central government, the new municipal councils in particular, must be seen to be performing. There is no way we can give the impression that it's all about winning the next election and let's try to hit the PUP when they are down. No. We have come as far as we have based on the deliverables that we have been able to point to. And I am absolutely positive that we have to continue to proceed in that fashion, so sufficient time must elapse in order to allow us to be able to point to new or continuing achievements, especially as I said where Dangriga, where Punta Gorda are concerned and in the area such as Belmopan, where I believe for the first time, we actually succeeded in the peripheral area. So, no chance at all of an election this year."

Jules Vasquez
"Now, are you intend on also staying in government long enough, to spend all that you can and the Petrocaribe fund? We know it's close to 200 million."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"That's also another consideration isn't it? In deed we've got to be able to program the funds and in terms of capacity, there is just no way we can spend all that money in the next few months."

Jules Vasquez
"Many observers were stunned at the out turn for the PUP, having lose ground, it actually defies, it confronts all expectations, because we know the pendulum of political fortune or misfortune swings ever only in one direction and now it seems to be swinging in the wrong direction. Swinging in favor of the incumbent, when it always swings against the incumbent. Might it not be apace to, not that your government is so great, but that the PUP is so poor?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Well, I think it has to be combination of both. I will not yield to any suggestion that this is not a positive win for the United Democratic Party, but indeed the Opposition has its troubles. I think it would be most ungracious of me to say anything personal against the leadership of the PUP. Again, I don't think people will like that very much. I don't think it's the thing to do, so I content myself with saying that obviously they have to do some soul searching and perhaps some house cleaning."

Jules Vasquez
"Is there a need for a strong opposition and perhaps a stronger opposition leader?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Well, I will say this. During the period that the UDP spent in the political wilderness, after every election defeat when I was the leader, I genuinely offered my resignation to my party. I was more than prepared to go."

Jules Vasquez
"You think he should offer his resignation?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"That's a matter for him. As I said, I am not going to give anyone the impression that I am prepared to kick a man when he is down. In terms of what the party will do, I expect that it's very much alive issue."

Jules Vasquez
"We'd like to quote Mr. Finnegan, victory over the defenseless. In this case it applies, because the PUP were completely broke and the UDP as you like to boast, have no shortage of cash."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"But Jules, it's something that I've said to you before. How does that help them? If you can't raise money, it must be that it is because the people who we all turned to for funding assistance, don't believe in you. Nobody will give you money if they don't think you are credible. So, indeed as a party, we had more money that they did. But expect they can try to even out things on that square - they and we can expect more of the same."

Jules Vasquez
"However, there is that known unknown, which is Mr. Ashcroft and all indications are that he has said, he is interested in the general election and was not interested in the municipal election and that is an X factor. How does that all work for the UDP...?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"He said as I saw it reported, that he will contribute in terms of the general elections and he sure as hell ain't going to contribute to us and we would have to say, if he were to think of it, which he will not. Thank you, but no thank you. So, that's going to make a considerable difference. And I've said to you before when we earlier discussed this issue that in effect that what it is, we have to take that well onboard. We have to see how it is that we can meet that particular challenge. It cannot be by way of upping our own spending, because after a while that becomes, I can't say counterproductive, that just becomes impossible. We can't even begin to dream of thinking we could ever match a billionaire. But, if we can, again, raised enough funds to be well resourced and we do have enough money to be competitive at least at the party level, I still think that our chances of getting a third term would be very good."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, you have conceded the government is not universally liked or loved and some might go even further to say that your government is widely disliked, so would that being the case, might the government not be in a sort of fooling feeling?"

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Quite frankly, I don't accept at all that we are widely disliked. Not at all. Even you if say that there is an element of calculation about yesterday's results, even if you feel well people figure the UDP has two more years, why not elect municipal councils that can get something out of central government - that can't alone can't explain the size of the victory. I am saying when you go to the individual municipalities, we won by some huge numbers. So, I believe that even though there are those that can point to all sorts of faults on the part of this government, overall, the country has come to accept that the UDP is doing a job of work. I do not at all fool myself into thinking that there is any room for complacency. I've said to you, there is no way I will call elections this year. If I was a victim of what may, as you put it, be a fooling feeling, I would call the elections in the 3 months - not going to do it. I am not going to do it, because I think that would be a serious miscalculation. I think right away, people would feel - you are trying to kick the opposition when its down - all you are concern about is to win a third term - it's all about power. No."

And so since he says he won't call a snap election this year, Prime Minister Barrow's cabinet ministers have to be on their very best behavior - because all the hard won political gains could be lost to a single corruption scandal. He told us that it's become a mantra of his to tell his ministers to stay out of trouble:..

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"We have to continue to show that we can keep ourselves in line or that I can keep ministers in line. You notice that for months now, apart from the little sort of everyday difficulties, there is no minister who is getting into any kind of reputational trouble. We need as we proceed to make people believe as in that regard, that UDP ministers will do their work and keep their heads down. In terms of resolving, lead me not into temptation."

Jules Vasquez
"It becomes harder for you to convince them to do that, after the kind of election term you have."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Well, I see it the other way around. Gentlemen, there is still the big prize, this will mean nothing if we can't secure a third term and one of the reasons we've done so well in the municipals is precisely because you have been keeping your head down. I am telling you that every cabinet meeting - that's the mantra. That's the gospel that I preach."

Later on Prime Minister Barrow tells us what he knows about the secret Briceno recording, and we'll tell you what we know about it.

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