Village Council elections start this weekend – and both major mass parties are gearing up for battle. Now, the elections shouldn’t be partisan, but they are – and often-times viciously so. But not for the PUP, not this time; they say they want to play the game right. Now, we know in Belize’s poisoned political culture – the word “right” doesn’t sit too well with either red or blue, and when it comes to election time conduct, all bets on good behavior are off! But, this time around the PUP say they want public officers who administer the elections, including police, to change a culture that their own party played a large part in creating. At a press conference this afternoon, Deputy Leader Julius Espat explained.
Hon Julius Espat - PUP Deputy Leader
"We are therefore calling on public officers who are assigned to supervise Village Council elections - to ensure non-political intereferance and allow the people in these communities to elect their own leaders. We are also calling the CEO's and Heads of Department to remind their staff that they must not take part in electioneering and vehicles in their care should not be used for transportation of UDP supporters. We are calling on the general public also to be vigilant and ensure and that they document by use of their telephones and cameras, any government vehicles that are on the ground. My message to the government of the day 'we the Belizean people will be watching you but this time it will not only be watching, we will be documenting you and we will be putting you on every media we possibly can."
And while the PUP has put the government on notice, they say villagers have told them that they don’t want that old-fashioned politics. Chairman Henry Usher explained.
Henry Charles Usher - PUP Chairman
"I have been travelling country wide in the last few weeks visiting with villagers and they have been telling me is that the UDP come in to their village and say "if you won't elect a UDP into this village then this village will punish'. That is what is going on country wide so they are the ones that are making this thing political."
Hon Julius Espat
"The people from the villages are requesting that we get away from party politics when it pertains to village council elections. The villagers are requesting that elections goes back to the core of what it was. The teams that we are supporting have a combination of UDP and PUP personalities and they have told me 'Mr. Espat can you support us to be able to organize us to be able to put up a slate?' Yes but I will not put a blue flag beside you and if you're fine with that I will give you support as area representative. They told me that the last elections they voted UDP and if I had a problem with that. No I don't."
And while that’s how it will run in Espat’s Cayo south – it was made clear at the press conference, that there will be different rules in different areas. And indeed there has to be because many village slates are overtly political – like in Unitedville. Recently we witnessed Espat and the UDP’s Anthony Boots Martinez have a testy confrontation about who would win in that village. Espat says that prompted him to re-think the election.
Hon Julius Espat
"I will start from that confrontation that you saw on the footsteps of the house. That is what highlighted me in my mind that this is nonsense, when a minister and myself will get into a quarrel about which candidate will run as chairman and he is offering money to see who will win the bet. After that encounter I spoke to him personally and I even went to speak to the chairman of the Village and I told them that it didn't make any sense. Why are we sweating fever over a personality because you're painting him red? It makes no sense. Since then I think the rhetoric has eased down a bit. I have spoken to that chairman candidate, Mr. Juan, and in all honesty we are opponents but I respect him. It will be the people of Unitedville at the end of the day that will make a decision. If he ends up winning, I will embrace him as a chairman as the area representative of Cayo South. I am saying that we will try. Reform is something that doesn't happen immediately. It takes time and it is a matter of changing the culture and convincing people that the culture change is something good for them."
And while they talk about change the PUP today launched an agenda making promises that really they can’t keep. It’s the 2013-2016 Village Council Agenda. It’s a 14 point document that promises to change how village leaderships are accorded by Government. That’s all fine and good, except the PUP is in no position to implement the agenda, because it’s not in government. Amandala’s Adele Ramos put that question to the head table.
Adele Ramos - Reporter, Amandala
"I see here within the pages that you talk about the PUP 'will'. So how much of this agenda would you realistically be able to carry out within the period 2013 and 2016? Also calling it a PUP Village Council agenda - isn't that really doing the same sort of politicizing that you say that the people don't want?"
Henry Charles Usher
"Thank you Adele. Two points I'd like to make on that. First of all you're absolutely right - we can't really change anything in the Village Council act unless and until the PUP is the party in government. We want to meet the conversation and we want to say that this is the way forward."
On Monday, we’ll know how the first round of village contests went.