Commentary: Belize citizens living abroad are denied their voting rights
By Wellington C. Ramos
When the UDP came to power in 1984 they granted dual citizenships to Belizeans who became citizens of another country, mainly the United States where most Belizeans outside of the country live. This was because when Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, the People’s United Party did nothing to protect the rights of natural born Belizean citizens who became citizens of other countries and they ended up losing their Belizean citizenships on that day.
However, the right to vote as Belizean citizens and other privileges were left out of this legislation. This created a dilemma for the Belize government because citizens of a country are entitled to their basic fundamental rights, especially the right to vote.
Two years ago, the current Prime Minister Dean Barrow promised Belizean Americans living abroad that he was going to introduce Article 7 as a constitutional amendment to address all these concerns but at the last minute withdrew the proposed legislation.
The People’s United Party is on record for opposing and not granting voting rights to natural born Belizeans who become citizens of another country and they do not even want to discuss this topic.
Today, natural born Belizeans living abroad are hearing about the efforts being made to naturalize foreigners and make them Belizean citizens to vote but nothing about their fate. Most Belizeans living in the United States love their country of birth and would do anything for it. Their dream is to acquire education, money and all the resources they are seeking and then go back and live in their homeland permanently.
Statistics over the years have also confirmed that Belizeans living in the United States make a significant contribution to the economy of Belize by sending money to their loved ones weekly.
Over the years, the members of the two political parties have been coming to the United States seeking the support of the Belizeans living here. Belizeans would go to these meetings in large numbers to hear what the governments have planned for them but walked away with promises only. In the end, many Belizeans living abroad are losing faith in the two political parties.
The UDP has the edge over PUP in support for granting Belizean Americans dual citizenships. The parties have said that they would like to grant proxy voting but they do not know how it could be implemented. Well, I did some research on the matter and I have some ideas as to how the government can implement it if they are interested, which are as follows;
Eligibility to Vote
Belizeans born in Belize or those who obtained their citizenships through the naturalization process 18 years and over will be eligible to vote. A registration form could be picked up at the Belize consul in the city, country where they are residing or they can request one by mail from any of these offices. The offices would then mail these applications to the Election and Boundaries Office to the voter’s place of birth or residence for processing.
Three months prior to the municipal or general elections, Belizeans living abroad who want to vote, can request a ballot from the same offices mentioned above to vote. The Election and Boundaries Commission shall establish a cut off date as to when these ballots must be returned to the Elections and Boundaries Commission Office in Belmopan, with the boxes sealed. When these ballot boxes are opened, there will be a representative from all the political parties who are contesting the elections to be witnesses. Counting will take place in their presence and the results forwarded to the respective constituencies before the day of the elections in the country of Belize.
Eligibility to Run for Office
Belizeans living abroad will be eligible to run for office but must be living in the country at least one year prior to the date of elections. Currently, Belizeans with dual citizenships cannot run because the law states that a person who swore allegiance to another country is not eligible to seek political office unless they withdraw their citizenship from the other country where they are naturalized. Belizeans and most people who live in the United States must be citizens to be eligible for most benefits in the country and giving up their citizenships is asking them for too much. This requirement is disqualifying some of the most educated, experienced and professional Belizeans from seeking offices in Belize.
My recommendations will not put an end to this controversial topic but we need to resolve this issue because Belizeans living abroad are Belizeans like everybody else and their fundamental rights should be granted to them.
I am asking all Belizean Americans to forward this article to their relatives and friends living in the United States and abroad.
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