Independent voters

The percentage of independent voters in the Belizean electorate is much more today than in October of 1974, say, when the general election results in the old Collet constituency suggested that the percentage of hard core independent voters may have been around 4 percent. The results of the 2009 municipal elections in Belmopan suggest that the percentage of independent voters in Belize may now be as high as 20 percent in specific areas.

The reasons for the huge increase in independent voter percentage include the 18-year-old vote (introduced in 1978), the great increase in the amount of citizens educated to the tertiary level and beyond, the introduction of cable television to Belize in 1982, and the present philosophical vagueness of the programs of the two major political parties.

Six decades ago, it was very clear what the People’s United Party (PUP) wanted, and what the National Party (NP) represented. In 2011, however, the PUP is not sure where it is going, except that it wants to return to national power, while the United Democratic Party (UDP) has definitely moved in a populist direction as it seeks a second term in national office. The PUP of 2011 is definitely different from the PUP of 1950, while the UDP of 2011 is definitely different from the NP of 1951.

The present ruling faction of the PUP recognized the importance of the independent vote when they began to publish the National Perspective two years ago. At the same time, the National Perspective was lobbying for the return of that aforementioned ruling faction to power in the PUP leadership. Remember, the present ruling faction of the PUP lost intra-party control when John Briceño became Party Leader in March of 2008.

The National Perspective has gone out of print and is now on the Internet. This “demotion” took place at precisely the same time that a new newspaper, The Independent, began publication three weeks ago. The name of The Independent indicates the aim of its unnamed financiers. They want to convince independent voters that the publication is not PUP-owned, so that the newspaper can influence some of the independent vote.

By definition, mass political parties include, under their philosophical umbrella, factions which are practically disparate. When the PUP won a big landslide victory in 1998 and returned to office, it is safe to assume that they enjoyed trade union support. By late 2004, however, the PUP’s flagrantly neoliberal policies had cost them the union vote, so that the party began to lose elections in 2006.

The PUP has been unable to bring real heat on a UDP government which is suffering from the worldwide economic downturn, because the PUP have not recovered the union support they enjoyed before 2004. It is true that the business sector in Belize is not happy with the Barrow administration, but the trade unions are still quiet. This does not mean they are happy, but there is no indication that the unions are in any kind of marching mood.

With Belize just 14 weeks away from national municipal elections, the independent voters have yet to show their hand. In 1998, it was obvious that the independents were going blue from long before general elections, and in 2008 it was obvious from 2006 that they were going red. It is late November, and we still don’t know where the independents will go in March.

Power to the people.