Seismic Shift In PUP: Briceno Out As Leader! Espat In!
If you felt a tremor this morning around 11:00, don't worry, it wasn't an earthquake; it was the ground-shaking news that PUP Leader John Briceno had suddenly resigned.
Briceno announced the decision at a meeting of the party's National Executive this morning.
7news was there from before it started:..
Jules Vasquez Reporting
The executive members trickled in to the Lions Building at 10am, first was Senior Deputy Francis Fonseca, Campaign Co-Manager Eamon Courtenay, Publicity Director Narda Garcia, Treasurer Julius Espat, Deputy Mike Espat and Senior Deputies Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde.
He greeted Briceno cordially in the parking lot. Notably Chairman Henry Usher and Past Leader Said Musa were absent.
Sometime within the first hour of the meeting, Briceno announced his resignation.
An hour later, at noon, Secretary General Rachel Montejo came to brief the press:
Rachel Montejo, PUP Secretary General
"Hon. John Briceno will be coming outside to make a presentation. There will be no questions that he will be answering and he will simply release a statement to the nation."
Briceno came out seeming relaxed and, visibly unburdened:
"Hi. Mr. Briceno, we understand that you have resign."
Hon. John Briceno
"Wait, let's get everybody outside. Let us come out a little bit more."
Indeed, not taking questions and wishing to have the entire executive that was present behind him, he came to the fore and made history:
Hon. John Briceno
"This morning I came and I tendered my resignation to the national executive. It is a decision that I made on my own and it has been because of personal reason - some health issues that I have been dealing with for the past months. The national executive have decided that they have set up a process they unanimously recommended that Senior Deputy Party Leader Hon. Mark Espat be the interim leader. A process has been set that probably within the next 30 days the party will hold a convention to elect a new leader. I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the national executive and the thousands of supporters across this country that have supported me over the past three and half going to four years as the party leader of the greatest political party this country have ever had. It has been a privilege and an honor for me to be able to serve the People's United Party."
And with that, Briceno ended what has been 42 troubled and expensive months as leader - never really gaining momentum and failing to lead the party to any major election victories.
The job ahead is now for Interim Leader Mark Espat who has to solidify the support in the executive that was shown for him today.
Leaning heavily on Senior Deputy Francis Fonseca for support will be crucial if he is to engage elements of the old Guard, which, if we judge by today's absences, takes a dim view of his sudden ascent.
Certainly a stunning and unexpected turn of events - and from what we gather it is that rarest thing in politics: a genuine surprise.
From what we have been able to find out Briceno gathered his inner circle at his office at 9:00 am this morning to give them the news.
From there he went to the executive meeting - huddled with his senior deputies before to give them the news - and then the meeting started. Before the agenda could be tabled, he cut in and announced that he would be stepping down effective immediately.
The PUP constitution calls for an interim leader to be appointed from among the senior deputies or failing that, then the party chairman. As we understand it, at least one person, recommended the chairman Henry Charles Usher. But, Gina Tillett the President Of The Women's Group from Cayo recommended Mark Espat as interim leader. That recommendation was met with unanimous support - meaning each member of the executive - who was there - spoke and said they supported it.
That has to be considered extraordinary because a few of those executive members are sworn enemies of Mark Espat - and that's because they are old guard affiliates and many blame him for the demise of Said Musa. But - nonetheless - to a man and woman - they endorsed him as interim leader.
Now we stress that there was unanimous support among the executive members who were there because there were some notable absences. First, past leader Said Musa reportedly boycotted the event. His absence was notable because generally, he is not known to miss such meetings. The second notable absence is his son, the Party Chairman Henry Charles Usher, who was not there because - we are told - it is his birthday - which - considering all that had unfolded in the past week - seems a hardly credible excuse - particularly considering that national executive meetings are to be chaired and led by the chairman. Third, we noted the absence of Florencio Marin Jr. - the Corozal Southeast Representative and one of the PUP's five parliamentarians. So two parliamentarians and the chairman were absent - suggesting that Espat's ascension does not have universal support from the members of the party executive.
Which means that the next 30 days leading up to a new National Convention will be very interesting - leading us into another season of intrigue for the PUP.
And while that is the state of play - to contextualize it all, we go into a bit of political commentary.
Observers say that the only semi-credible challenge for leader could come from Said Musa, who led the party for 12 years from 1996 to 2008. Whether he still has the stomach for it remains to be seen.
But, informed observers say - it will also - to a large extent - be decided by that thing that makes the world go round: Money.
The fact is that Briceno's leadership was ultimately undone because the party was broke, he had already indebted himself substantially and could not find the finances to position his party to contend in the upcoming elections. His now immortal outburst against the party's millionaires last week Saturday can now be seen as a last gasp of desperation.
So who's going to bring the money to lead the PUP into two elections in two years? Best guesses say that whoever can do that will be best positioned to be declared leader at the next convention.
But right now Espat has to be considered the favorite. He is already interim leader and - it can hardly be argued - that he is the fittest person to lead the opposition. Within the party - particularly for the old guard - the knock against him has always been - to put it bluntly - that he is disloyal.
In fact one member of the Party's order of distinguished service - Silky Stewart who huffed out of the meeting when it was suggested that Espat be interim Leader - told us that he is now a Blue-Dog UDP - meaning a PUP willing to work with the UDP - presumably because he can't stomach the idea of Espat being even interim leader.
But, detractors, aside, Espat's ascension - even in the interim - is a legitimate game changer - for the PUP who now have a demonstrably capable leader - and for the UDP who won't have Briceno to kick around or bully anymore.
Days to come will tell how it all plays out, and we promise that when we know it, you will too.
But back to Briceno for a minute: apart from providing the most memorable single event in recent PUP history since George Price stepped down in 1996, he becomes the PUP leader with the second shortest term in its 61 year history: falling between Leigh Richardson who did only two years, and John Smith who did less than four - both of them back in the 50's.
As to the health issues he disclosed this morning, we can only say that it is a very surprising revelation.
That's because Briceno held a media breakfast in August of this year in which he told the assembled media - in passing conversation - that he had recently gone to Merida for a physical where he was examined by a number of doctors and he was given a clean bill of health.
If pressing health problems have arisen since then, we stand corrected.
It remains to be seen if he will stay on as leader of the opposition in the house for the interim period.
Leader of opposition John Briceño resigns
Orange Walk Central People’s United Party Leader John Briceño resigned today. Briceño became the leader of the P.U.P. in March of 2008. The Orange Walk Central standard bearer brought hopes to his party members that he could win the next General Elections against the United Democratic Party (U.D.P.). But three years and seven months later and just shy of an election, Briceño has resigned as party leader and Leader of the Opposition. Apparently from early in the week, Briceño and his inner circle have been discussing his future prior to an executive P.U.P. meeting which was slated for this morning. The executive meeting was attended by: Carolyn Trench Sandiford, Mark Espat, Cordel Hyde, Francis Fonseca, Luke Espat, and Lisa Shoman, amongst other executive members. The team was meeting to discuss the party’s finances but it seemed that Briceño had already decided to use the occasion to step aside. News Five was there when Briceño announced his resignation as he exited the Lions building located outside of the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Leader of the Opposition John Briceno has been addressing issues ranging from the party’s finances to his personal finances. But Briceno says his resignation as Leader is because of health reasons.
John Briceño, Former Leader of the Opposition
“I just have a very short statement. This morning I came and tendered my resignation to the national executive. It is a decision that I made on my known. It has been because of personal health issues and reasons that I have been dealing with for the past few months.”
Not so long ago in June, a sea of blue attended Briceño’s endorsement convention in Orange Walk. The P.U.P. candidates pledged their support for the party leader.
Collet Montejo, P.U.P. Standard Bearer, Cayo Central [File: June 27th 2011]
“There is no old guard P.U.P. or no new guard P.U.P.; there is only one P.U.P.! One P.U.P.! Join together in unity standing strong behind Johnny. My fellow Belizeans, my friends, this is our moment now. From today onward, we start that march towards Belmopan; we start that march to make John Briceño our next Prime Minister and to bring in all thirty-one candidates.”
But only twenty-nine candidates were present at the convention. Notably absent were Cordell Hyde of Lake Independence and Mark Espat of the Albert Division. But as one P.U.P., today they flanked in support of Briceno, as hegave his farewell.
“I want to take this opportunity to thank the members of the national executive and the thousands of supporters across this country that have supported me for the past three and a half going to four years as party leader of the greatest political party this country has ever had. It has been a privilege and an honor for me to be able to serve the People’s United Party. We are all convinced—Belizeans now more than ever know that the direction that the U.D.P. has been taking this country is a wrong one: record unemployment, crime spiraling out of control, people losing hope and faith in the future and we believe that only a government of the People’s United Party can turn this around. Later in the week we are going to hold a press conference where we will be able to answer all of your questions. Thank you very much and may god continue to bless this wonderful country of Belize. Thank you.”
Espat is now interim Leader of the P.U.P. and the Opposition
“The national executive have decided that they have set up a process—they unanimously recommended that honorable senior deputy party leader, Mark Espat, be the interim leader. A process has been set that probably within the next thirty days, the party will hold a convention to elect a new leader.
Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.
While the reemergence of brothers-in-law Hyde and Espatwas expected, the absence of father and son Fort George Area Representative Said Musa and Party Chairman Henry Charles Usher was also duly noted.