Voting: some Belizeans more equal than others
Candidates and officials in seven towns and two cities are gearing up for elections on March first... but while all eyes are on the municipal balloting, a look at the national voter's list reveals that the elaborate redistricting exercise conducted over the last two years has produced a situation in which--once again--voters living outside Belize City are being shafted.
A quick look at the numbers tells the tale. Although the constitution mandates that "each division shall have as nearly as may be, an equal number of persons eligible to vote", the largest constituency, Stann Creek West, has more than twice as many voters as the smallest, the Albert Division. This discrepancy, albeit on a slightly lesser scale, exists between all ten Belize City constituencies and the twenty-one constituencies outside the city. In fact, even the largest city division, Lake Independence, with four thousand one hundred and eighty-seven registered voters, is smaller than very single district constituency with the sole exception of Cayo Northeast.
To look at it in a different way, the Belize City constituencies have a total of thirty-three thousand nine hundred and thirty-six registered voters. That amounts to twenty-five percent of the nation's voting population, which as of December, stood at one hundred and thirty-four thousand, nine hundred and seventeen. But with ten members of the House of Representatives out of the total thirty-one seats, the city boys control over thirty-two percent of the seats.
What does all this mean? Simply that if you live outside Belize City your representation in Belize's legislature is significantly weaker than the constitution intended. Conversely, if you live in the old capital your vote counts for much more than your brother in Stann Creek West. How did this situation come about?
It all dates back to 2004 when a three person task force, led by then Chief Elections Officer Myrtle Palacio, decided to follow the wishes of politicians instead of the nation's constitution. Based on Belize's population distribution the logical way to redistrict would have been to reduce the number of Belize City constituencies by two: that is combine Pickstock and Fort George on the north side and Mesopotamia and Queen's Square on the south.
Instead, the task force--with the blessing of both parties--used some tortured legal reasoning to maintain that equal doesn't really mean equal and that it was fine for city dwellers to be over-represented to the detriment of their country cousins. To this day, despite numerous requests, Palacio has never seen fit to discuss the first task force's recommendations nor, to be fair, has the chairman of the Election and Boundaries Commission--Karl Menzies--whose members unanimously approved the task force's report.
When Belize's disenfranchised voters will wake up the erosion of their most basic right is anybody's guess, but with the wealth of the nation increasingly concentrated outside Belize City, it cannot come a moment too soon.