One hundred and fifty three candidates were today nominated for Belize's local elections which will take place on March 1st. The majority of the candidates represent the two main political parties, the United Democratic Party and the Peoples United Party. There are also candidates from two small parties, the Vision Inspired by the People Party, and the National Alliance for Belizean Rights Party, as well as six independent candidates. The elections are for Mayors and Councils in the two cities and seven towns of Belize.
As this is the final election before the General Elections slated for 2008, both the opposition UDP and the incumbent PUP are trying to make a good showing. Local observers see the upcoming local elections as a litmus test that could well set the stage for the outcome of the General Elections.
Nomination Day: It's a straightforward legal process that in recent years has been incorporated into the partisan hoopla that now surrounds even the smallest electoral contests. Today the P.U.P., U.D.P., a pair of third parties, and six independent candidates signed up for the March first municipal elections in the nation's seven towns and two cities. I was on hand at the government complex in Belize City when the two major political machines rolled out their heavy artillery.
Janelle Chanona, Reporting
This morning the People’s United Party plastered Mahogany Street in blue as its city council slate and supporters paraded towards the Elections and Boundaries office.
As part of new regulations, only candidates, their nominators, and key party officials were allowed onto the compound. Once inside, returning officer Gareth Murillo and election clerks Dorothy Bradley and Beverly Rogers stood ready.
P.U.P. Mayoral Candidate Marshall Nunez was the first to sign the official documents.
Nunez was endorsed by P.U.P. PR man Bill Lindo and John Young. One by one his running mates followed suit.
Marshall Nunez, PUP Mayoral Candidate
”Thank you very much to all the supporters. Thank you! P.U.P.! Today is a very energetic and special day. Today our team, we officially get put on the ballot. We have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks, we will be coming around but we are excited about the support that we have from the residents from Belize City. We love you all!”
According to Nunez, the next step for the P.U.P. will be visiting homes with sample ballots.
”It’s important, as we left here we need to start getting out the sample ballots so people get the idea of how they vote on election day so we will be coming around getting sample ballots to the voters. We have been to their homes on many occasions; we have been visiting, consulting with them. We brought them our plan and we’ll be coming back with that sample ballot showing them how to vote on election day.”
But while the blue took the morning, this afternoon was all red.
After their parade down Mahogany Street, U.D.P. Mayoral Candidate Zenaida Moya, her councillor candidates, and U.D.P. officials presented themselves to returning officer Murillo at the official table.
Moya was endorsed today by her mother Erlean Jones and Leroy Almendarez.
Zenaida Moya, UDP Mayoral Candidate
”This is the sprint till March first and our team, we are motivated, and as I told you, I am sure the advertisements will be in your face, but we the candidates will also be out there really showing people that we are out there and we are there to continue listening. We have been campaigning from last year, from September we have been campaigning just about every day, so I must say we are tired, we are a bit tired, but it is great and we are motivated and our adrenaline is really in a rush. Everyday we meet all our supporters and our fans. ... What I can tell you is the supporters that are here with the U.D.P. that came out for us, none of them were paid.”
And with just fifteen days from elections, both major political parties are, not surprisingly, confident of victory.
Dean Barrow, Leader, United Democratic Party
”The mood that’s so obvious in the streets; you stop at a bar, you stop at a grocery shop, you stop at the corner, and the word is coming loud, clear, and strong. There is no way that the U.D.P. is going to lose in Belize City.”
“What’s next in the UDP campaign?”
“Well, more hard work between now and election day; there is no room at all of course for complacency. We know that we are way ahead but we also know that in politics a week is an eternity, so that we want to be sure that they are no slippages, that we maintain the pace, the pressure, going right into election day.”
Francis Fonseca, Chairman, P.U.P.
”It’s all about hard work, Janelle, over the next fifteen days. That’s the only way you win elections, hard work everyday, all the candidates doing their part, all the constituencies having their organisation in place and of course on election day rolling out the big blue machine which we are famous for. We are not going to disappoint anybody this time, we are going to roll out the blue machine, it’s going to be well oiled, well ready and properly organised to deliver the victory for the People’s United Party come March first.”
But with every election, there is also the sticky subject of campaign financing.
“Francis are you all anticipating this election will cost you in total?”
”We haven’t figured that out at all Janelle. I can tell you that we haven’t spent a lot of money at all on this election so far, it’s been a very low budget operation for us. Obviously logistics involved in terms of moving around and organising events, entertainment and sort of thing costs, but apart from that it’s been very low budget and that’s the approach we are taking to this election. We know we are going through challenging times in our country and so our campaign really reflects that.”
“How much are you anticipating this campaign will cost the party?”
”I don’t have any idea, I would have to check with Ms. Bailey who is our treasurer, but we do feel that while it’s gonna be cut rather close for us, we have been able so far to maintain the basic campaign and we think that we’ll be able to continue to do just what is necessary or perhaps a little more and that’s going to be more than enough to get us over the top.”
According to Chief Elections Officer Stuart Leslie, countrywide one hundred and fifty-four candidates were officially nominated.
Stuart Leslie, Chief Elections Officer
”Today was big for the department because we had to organise all across the country. And so we have all our registering officers working with returning officers in all the districts, putting together a similar situation to what you witnessed here in Belize City.”
“It has gone flawless as far we are concerned and we hope that this policy of outdoor nomination has been to the benefit of the public.”
There were a few surprises in Belize City: the first at lunch when independent candidate Estevan Perera showed up without witnesses. Two members of the media--Terry Gordon and Adele Ramos Daly--solved that situation. Percival Reynolds also officially joined Perera as a candidate for NABR. And then late this afternoon, there was a brief spat over Mark King's ability to contest the city council elections for the U.D.P. when it was discovered he was registered to vote in the Belize Rural Central division. A check of the law books would later allow King his rightful place on the ballot paper when it was confirmed that a City Council candidate need not be registered to vote in the city.