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Election 2012; Forgiveness or Trust?
The decision for the 2012 elections is a breath away. In less than twelve hours the polls will open for voting in these critical elections. There are seventy candidates vying for thirty-one seats in the general elections and one hundred and seventy for the municipal elections. Both major political parties released their manifestos two weeks ago; they speak of growing the economy and keeping the utilities as government owned. But the political advertising in this early election has been relentless and ruthless. The U.D.P. campaign attack is focused on the opposition leader, Francis Fonseca, who is portrayed as a puppet while the P.U.P. depicts the Prime Minister as King; his family as royalty, so that a vote for Dean Barrow would be a vote for nepotism. But there are relevant issues that are weighing on the collective minds of the politicians. The Oceana mock referendum last week Wednesday dubbed “The Peoples Referendum” is a reaction to the government’s outright rejection to a petition by the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage to have the offshore drilling agenda tabled during the March seventh elections. Oceana garnered the vote of over twenty-nine thousand electors from across the country. Ninety-six percent voted no to offshore drilling. Is that likely to impact Wednesday’s general election? Time will tell.
A phenomenon in the campaign has been about polls. Some have been discredited or ignored them, but one that politicians can’t dismiss was recently commissioned by a former U.D.P. Campaign Manager and conducted by Yasmine Andrews. Most politicians rely on the traditionally older die-hard party supporters but in the survey, the majority of the voters polled were in the range of eighteen to thirty-seven years while most participants were at a high school graduate level of education. The survey tested many areas including voting intention at a margin of error of plus or minus five percent. Gender and age have different persuasions for Wednesday’s election. According to the sample, fifty seven point nine percent of males intend to vote for the U.D.P. while twenty-five point eight intend to vote for the PUP. And for women, only eight percent intended to vote for the U.D.P. while ninety-one percent intended to vote for the P.U.P. So it appears that the PUP has more charm with women and the UDP has more camaraderie with men. The PUP has three female candidates and the UDP has only male candidates, which could explain some of the preferences based on sex. The Andrews’ poll also gives the blue party the edge in the elections. So on Wednesday, Channel Five and Love FM will bring you the first vote at the open of the polls and the announcement of the next government live as the drama unfolds; all starting at seven a.m.
Ideas and Opinions - Two big promises: one Red – one Blue
This is the season of promises by members of political parties and, individual candidates seeking to persuade the electorate, that now has the power to decide, who will govern us.
We don’t know if they will or, can keep these promises. All we can do is make judgments about them. There is one thing we can decide on, based on what we know. We can decide on which of the major political parties should form the next government.
For those who belong to, or support one of the major parties, the decision is easy because, they are already committed. For them, it is their party instead of their country, right or wrong. The rest of us put everything on a balance scale and, decide in favor of the side that tips the scale.
Let’s consider the two big promises. It is proposed by the People’s United Party that there should be a four-year term of office for members of the House of Representatives. The United Democratic Party declares that it will establish a National Bank.
Along with a four-year term, it is proposed that there should be a fixed date for general elections.
In America, which has a Republican system of government, the President is the head of Government. The President is the head of the Executive, with a fixed date for a presidential election. In America, there are two other branches of government, the Congress and the Senate, which are independent of each other. The last two have the power to make laws and approve revenue and expenditure proposals made by the Executive.
There is a big difference between ours and the Republican system of government. If either Congress or Senate denies approval of the President’s budget or, if either refuses to increase the national debt ceiling, it would create what is called “gridlock,” and the machinery of government would grind to a halt, not to be restarted until the parties come to terms.
In our system, if the House of Representatives does not pass the Appropriation Bill, that would be a vote of “No Confidence,” and the government would fall. General elections would have to be called by a specified period and, a new government elected. It has been suggested that this difference makes the fixing of a date for general elections unrealistic, I don’t agree. The fixed date has many merits. Amongst them is that it takes away the unfair advantage enjoyed by the incumbent to call elections at its convenience. Provision could be made in the law for setting a new fixed date in that eventuality. I favor the four-year term because, I think that it would do more than any other single measure to reduce corruption.
I have been listening to the voices of the advocates of a National Bank. What they say seems to make sense but, all I have to judge by is my extensive reading of books on economics from Cairncross and Benham to Samuelson and Galbraith, which does not make me an expert. If the establishment of a National Bank will do such wonderful things for our economy, why is it our political and civic leaders have not come on board? Perhaps, the idea is adverse to their political and social philosophy. Perhaps, they are aware of insurmountable obstacles in the way of pursuing such an objective. Perhaps, they are listening to the wrong experts. Perhaps, they lack imagination and vision. Where experts are concerned, there are experts and experts. It is wise to consult them but, in the end you have to use your own judgment. Here’s an example of what I mean.
A man named Henry Ford realized that a vehicle on wheels powered by an internal combustion engine could travel faster and further than a horse, at less cost, so, without doing a feasibility study, he built the Model T, which began the motor vehicle industry. He trusted his judgment.
The basic concept of a commercial bank is that the funds they have to lend come from deposits accruing from all kinds of transactions and savings. The banks pay interest on these deposits and collect interest from loans to individuals and other entities. Their margin of profit comes from the difference between the interest they pay on deposits and what they charge on loans. Banking is very profitable in Belize because of the size of the margin. Because of the size of the margin, certain sectors of the economy are underdeveloped. The agricultural sector, which is a high risk and low profit enterprise, needs to have access to funds for capital investment at a lower rate of interest than the commercial bank rate. You’ll notice that there isn’t a single stadium of international standard where we could play a World Cup match. There is no Central Park and open spaces for children to recreate. No auditorium and no playing fields. I understand that a National Bank would provide funds for these and other like ventures at interest rates which will encourage entrepreneurs to venture.
Establishing a National Bank will be breaking new ground but, we have many models to study in friendly administrations. What is encouraging is that all the countries that have National banks have thriving economies.
According to the original school of economics, the Free Enterprise Capitalist System regulates itself through the workings of the market forces, guided by an “invisible hand” and, there is no need for governments to intervene. They were proven wrong by the stock market crash in 1929 and, the recent worldwide recession, which was the result of “capitalism gone mad” in banking practices. Roosevelt’s Reconstruction Bank saved America, and world governments are still trying to get a handle on the recession.
Commercial banks provide a necessary service but, their primary purpose is to make a profit for their shareholders. I think that a National Bank should have the same motto as a credit union: “Not for profit, not for charity but, for service.” If it does then, the operations of such an institution could do more to grow the economy than any other mechanism.
I think these two manifesto promises are very good for our country and, a nationalistic government will embrace them both.
Janus writing for Amandala
Homestretch 2012 …
On more than one occasion, we have pointed out to you in these pages the similarities and the potential similarities between the present general election campaign and that of June 1993. At this point, we can now remark on an important difference between the two campaigns, and that difference is that the incumbent United Democratic Party (UDP) are probably conscious of the fact that their lead/advantage has been reduced. This did not appear to be the case with the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1993: at the top they were not aware of what the UDP’s free education and free land promises were doing to damage them, the PUP, on the ground.
None of the leaders and spokespeople of the UDP and the PUP want to acknowledge publicly how large a segment of the Belizean voting population they no longer control. It is now clear that the independent voters will decide this election on Wednesday, March 7, and what this means is that the outcome of the election is neither in the hands of the UDP’s Dean Barrow or the PUP’s Francis Fonseca. Neither of them will win it, and neither of them will lose it. But neither of them will acknowledge this, because it suits both of them to continue living in the PUDP past.
Electoral politics in Belize changed substantially when the UDP was formed in 1973. Previously, when the PUP and the National Party (NP) battled each other from 1951 to 1956, the issues were simple. The PUP wanted self-government and independence, and the NP wanted to remain closely tied to Great Britain. When the PUP fractured at the top in 1956, and the NP became the National Independence Party (NIP) in 1958 following their alliance with the PUP leaders who had been overthrown in 1956 – Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, the issues did not change that much. The PUP still wanted self-government and independence, but the NIP, especially after Goldson became their Leader in 1961, began to focus on fighting the Guatemalan claim to Belize. This was another, less reactionary way of saying they wanted Belize to remain close to Great Britain, which had been the NP position.
In 1973, the UDP began to concentrate on strengthening the free market, pro-business climate in Belize, because the PUP had become somewhat socialist in perspective under their iconic Leader, the Rt. Hon. George Price. The PUP staggered in the 1974 general elections, but held serve in the 1979 generals, thus providing the crowning piece in the political credibility which enabled them to lead Belize to political independence in 1981.
The PUP and the UDP, however, had begun to become the PUDP in the late 1970’s, when prominent Belizean lawyers began to build law firms led by partners from the two major parties. This meant that such law firms did lucrative business whether the PUP or the UDP were in office. The top lawyers had, in effect, risen above the political fray. The big business houses were quick to follow. So it was that after independence, there were no real issues in Belizean politics: only personalities, business, law and money.
Today, if there are any issues in this general election campaign, one is that the UDP Leader, under all kinds of pressure from the British billionaire, Lord Michael Ashcroft, has gone nationalist, and perhaps even socialist. The other issue would be that the PUP leadership, while publicly worshipping at the shrine dedicated to Mr. Price, appears to have gone, quite arguably, against his roots, social justice and mixed-economy policies.
Wednesday’s general election, we submit, will be decided by the working people in the various constituencies of Belize. They will decide whether they are willing to continue accepting economic punishment as the price for national dignity and national pride, or whether they want to play it safe, so to speak, and place their welfare in the hands of the money people. This is the newspaper’s analysis.
In a general election as close as this one, it would have been a relatively easy thing for Amandala to affect the results one way or the other. Despite the haters and naysayers, this newspaper is 43 years old, and has been the leading publication here for more than 30 of those years. Longevity counts for something, whether you like it or not. Longevity builds credibility – week by week, month by month, year by year.
We have chosen in this campaign not to seek to tell the Belizean people where to go. We have our preferences, but we have essentially deferred to the people. In 2012, the people of Belize will tell us where to go on Wednesday, March 7, and we will follow their instructions.
All power to the people.
… politicians are hypocrites …
- Tupac Shakur in “It’s me against the world”
After six decades of these exciting, but inevitably inconclusive, processes we know as national elections, the masses of the Belizean people are conscious that these processes are not really the end of the world, and that some very important institutions and realities will essentially remain the way they have always been.
Most prominent among these institutions which are never affected by the ballots are the churches and the schools. The churches are in charge of our souls and the schools are in charge of our brains. After your soul and your brain, all you have left is your body, and that is only on loan to you, in all its mortal frailty.
On Tuesday night around midnight someone set a car on fire in the Esso gas station parking lot on New Road in Belize City. The car belonged to the attorney Godfrey Smith, but was in the use of the surgeon Dr. Francis Smith, who is Godfrey’s older brother and who has been campaigning as the PUP candidate for the Pickstock constituency. The immediate suspicion was that this very, very dangerous crime was the work of campaigners for Dr. Smith’s opponent, the attorney Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, who became the area representative for Pickstock after defeating Dr. Smith’s brother, the aforementioned Godfrey, in the February 2008 general elections.
Now, which absolute idiot would start a fire in a gas station in a crowded residential area of roots Belizeans? We put it to you that there is another possibility besides an absolute Belizean idiot. In a time like this, days before general elections, there are agents for interested regional and international powers who are inside the territory of Belize.
We have said to you in these editorial pages, on more than one occasion, that many violent things happen in states which have important petroleum resources. These very violent things take place because petroleum deposits are so valuable. Some people refer to oil as “black gold.” There was a state of frenzy that used to be called “gold fever,” referring to the behavior of people with respect to the yellow metal. There is a certain amount of oil fever in Belize these days. Consider this. If there had been a catastrophic explosion in the New Road gas station on Tuesday night, do you believe that it would have been possible to hold a national people’s referendum on offshore oil drilling on Wednesday morning?
In the remainder of this essay, we want to examine the political personalities involved with the campaign for the Pickstock seat, the purpose being to give you another graphic example of the PUDP system which controls the socio-politics of Belize. Sedi Elrington’s long-time law partner is B. Q. Pitts, Sr., who is the Attorney General of Belize. Francis Smith’s brother, Godfrey, is considered Lord Michael Ashcroft’s no. 1 Belizean attorney and loyalist. Okay. So UDP Sedi Elrington and PUP Francis Smith are supposed to be totally daggers drawn because one is so red and one is so blue.
In the summer of 1975, a man subsequently described as “a PUP soldier” by the late Rt. Hon. George C. Price, took out a gun at a PUP public meeting at the Courthouse Wharf in Belize City and shot four UDP hecklers who were hollering at the PUP crowd from Central Park. Fortunately, the shooter, a U.S. military veteran, did not kill anyone. He was arrested and offered bail by Magistrate Edwin Flowers. Then he was quickly spirited out of the country by the powers-that-be, proceeding to spend several years in California, and returned to Belize for “trial” immediately after Belize achieved independence in 1981. At the “trial” he was defended by the said B. Q. Pitts, a UDP luminary and stalwart. That gunman never spent a day in jail.
Now to Godfrey Smith, former PUP secretary-general, Pickstock area representative, and Said Musa Cabinet Minister. He began his legal career in the law firm of Barrow & Williams, UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s firm. In 2002, while a PUP Cabinet Minister (Attorney General), Godfrey Smith formed a private company (BELIPO) to work the lucrative business of a privatized government department we once knew as the Registry. His partners in that company were attorney Eamon Courtenay, a sometime PUP Cabinet Minister, and the attorney Denys Barrow, the younger brother of the aforementioned Dean Barrow, UDP Leader.
Let us wrap up this PUDP package with the following ribbon, whatever the color. Shortly after Sedi Elrington defeated the aforementioned Ashcroft favorite, Godfrey Smith, to win the Pickstock seat and become a UDP Cabinet Minister, he accepted a gift of $200,000 from Lord Ashcroft, with which he built the Samuel Haynes School of Excellence.
Belize became an independent nation in September of 1981, but our head of state is a Governor-General whose loyalty is to the Queen of England, Elizabeth II. It is the Queen’s portrait which stares at us every day from the official currency of Belize. In the House of Representatives, all our elected leaders swear an oath of loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II, “her heirs and successors.” On Friday of this week, the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, visits Belize in honor of the sixtieth anniversary of his grandmother’s coronation.
“After six decades of these exciting, but inevitably inconclusive, processes we know as national elections, the masses of the Belizean people are conscious that these processes are not really the end of the world, and that some very important institutions and realities will essentially remain the way they have always been.”
Power to the people.
Second Aikman poll sees PUP narrow gap; electorate still undecided
With less than 48 hours to go before polls open on Wednesday, voters are still undecided in a majority of divisions as to whom to send to the House of Representatives, but the United Democratic Party (UDP) are narrowly favored even though more are now inclined to vote for the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), a new poll has revealed.
The poll is the second conducted by businessman Derek Aikman, and was held on Friday, March 2, 2012.
A total of 8,847 voters, or 4.97% of the voting population, participated. From a 15-point gap in the first poll, the UDP’s percentage lead is down to just four points, 30% to 26%, with 1% going to candidates of the Belize Unity Alliance (BUA) in Belize Rural South and Belmopan. However, 43% of the electorate, in a similar percentage to the previous poll, still say they have not decided for whom to vote.
In the first poll released on February 17, Nomination Day, the UDP theoretically held a majority of 16 seats, with the PUP holding just two and the thirteen others in a statistical dead heat.
After Friday, the PUP hold nine seats: Orange Walk Central, which they had won in the last poll; Fort George, Pickstock, Belize Rural South, Corozal Southeast, Corozal Bay, Cayo North, Cayo West, and Orange Walk North.
The UDP are ahead in Queen’s Square, Port Loyola, Caribbean Shores, Mesopotamia, Collet, Lake Independence, Corozal North, Belmopan, Cayo Northeast, Cayo Central, and Orange Walk South.
The remaining 11 seats that hold the balance of power are Albert, Freetown, Belize Rural North and Central, Dangriga and Stann Creek West, Toledo East and West, Corozal Southwest, Cayo South and Orange Walk East.
“...and down the stretch they come!!”
In the last few hours before polls open on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, five political parties and associations are working hard to convince 178,054 registered electors—among them 97,979 registered to also vote in simultaneous municipal elections—to cast “x’s” in their favor, as 170 municipal candidates and 75 general election candidates try to make it down the last stretch of the mile in this year’s electoral race.
Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca is apparently extremely busy trying not only to retain his seat in Freetown, where he won last time by a slim margin of under 20 votes, but also to usher his party into an election win. Amandala tried to secure an interview with Fonseca today but we got no response to our phone calls and text messages. Our attempts to reach him through the PUP’s Communications Director Lisa Shoman were also futile.
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), as well as the third parties and independent candidates, are deemed to be at a considerable disadvantage, since the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) called elections a year early, to coincide with this year’s municipal elections.
In the municipal elections, both mass parties have full slates – a mayoral candidate supported by 10 councilor candidates in Belize City and a mayoral candidate and six councilor candidates in the remaining 8 municipalities.
The towns of Corozal, Orange Walk, San Ignacio/Santa Elena, and Dangriga have a straight UDP-PUP face-off; but the independents are challenging them in the remaining five municipalities.
There seems to be an interesting contest for the seat of mayor. Belize City and Belmopan have five mayoral candidates, Benque has four, and San Pedro and Punta Gorda have three. There are a total of 13 independent candidates in the municipal race and a total of 5 parties, including Association Benqueña far out west.
The general election race for 31 seats includes 6 independent candidates, 4 from Vision Inspired by the People, primarily in the Belize District, and 3 in Stann Creek and Toledo from the People’s National Party. The PUP and UDP will go unchallenged in 19 electoral divisions, most of them in places like Belize City, Cayo and Orange Walk.
The third parties and independents, many of whom come under the banner of the Belize Unity Alliance (BUA), are focusing heavily in the South, where BUA leader Robert Lopez said candidates like the PNP’s Wil Maheia, may yield good results.
Political analysts have said that the economic challenges looming over Central Government have been the trigger for early elections, but speaking with Amandala today, Prime Minister and UDP leader Dean Barrow disagreed with statements made by Fonseca in a Caribbean Journal interview published today, that the economy is the biggest factor in these elections.
Barrow said that quality of life is really the main concern and the UDP has done more than enough on that front to secure a win in the elections.
Barrow told our newspaper that he expects the UDP to do much better in Belize City than it did in the last election in 2008, but he was not so confident about the south of the country.
Asked particularly about Toledo, he said that they came into government on a tide of expectations, and admittedly, they have not been able to deliver on all of them, so he does expect some slippage in the south, more so in Toledo West than in Toledo East. Still, though, Barrow is claiming a victory for both Toledo constituencies.
He is also calling a win for Lake I, which recently suffered the loss of two-time PUP area representative Cordel Hyde. The PUP tried to replace Hyde with Yolanda Schakron, but she was rejected because she held US citizenship, one of the disqualifying factors for serving in Belize’s Parliament. Former PUP Lake I area rep Carlos Diaz threw his hat in the Lake I race to avoid an automatic win by the UDP’s Mark King. Barrow told us today that given the recent chain of events, Lake I will be a sure win for the UDP.
He also told us, in reference to the Freetown division, of which Francis Fonseca, Opposition Leader, is presently the incumbent representative: “I feel pretty confident that Lee Mark will win,” which would mean that the Opposition PUP would have to find a new leader to represent them in Parliament, either as Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, depending on the outcome of Wednesday’s elections.
Barrow also said that the Albert division, which the PUP has held, will go the UDP, with the very recent resignation of Mark Espat.
He expects a different outcome in the districts. Although he did not concede to any defeat at all, Barrow said that he does not expect a blowout in the 2012 elections, and he said that while the north is, as the PUPs say, their battleground, he still sees “red” in the north.
In regards to his party’s prospects, Lopez of the BUA does believe that “there is a very good chance one or two of us [BUA] could get in...”
He said he does not see the UDP winning the municipals and he thinks the San Pedro Council will be mixed.
As for his chance of winning the Belize Rural South seat he is contesting, Lopez was cautious in making any projections.
Lopez said, “The Belizean electorate is just too unpredictable.”
While the atmosphere in San Pedro is usually pleasant, Lopez told us that in the hours leading into the 2012 dual elections, “It’s starting to heat up a little, and a lot of mudslinging has been taking place between the two major parties,” speaking of the UDP and PUP.
As for the energy among the voters, he said he expects a relatively high voter turnout, and he did tell us that he thinks the undecided voters will probably lean towards the UDP rather than the PUP.
He said that the “blue” seems to be “financially strapped out here”, citing the very few banners and very infrequent ads he’s seen for the Opposition.
Saturday, said Lopez, the UDP spent big, probably $30,000 to $40,000 on a rally on the island, at which it gave away appliances and beer—as much as Lopez said he has spent on his pre-election campaign.
Public Notices from Elections and Boundaries Department
The Elections and Boundaries Department issues the following Notices to the General Public in preparation of Election Day