Time to address the issue of political conventions in Belize

By Wellington C. Ramos

In Belize, like most other countries, it is left to the political parties to decide what type of rules they want to formulate in their party constitutions to conduct party conventions. In some of the political parties' constitutions there are no clearly defined rules as to how to go about conducting conventions to select candidates on behalf of their parties to run for public office. The leaders of the parties then set discretionary rules from time to time depending on the candidates and the circumstances they face.

In the 1970s, when I was a young man growing up in Dangriga Town, our representative was minister of works, Alan Arthurs Sr. This is a man that I know well because I used to be close to the Lopez family who lived right across the street from his house on Lemon Street. His wife and her children disliked the Garifuna people and there were many times when they would refer to my people as "Kerobie". The people of Dangriga got tired of Alan Arthurs and wanted a new representative. The then mayor of Dangriga Town Simeon Joseph was their choice to replace him at the upcoming PUP convention.

The PUP had a rule that to vote in their conventions you must have a party card. During that time the most organized political party in the country of Belize was the People's United Party (PUP). They had a men and women's group, along with grand marshals fully dressed in their blue and white uniforms with their batons, who had meetings weekly. The convention was held in Alan Arthurs' building by the main bridge, called "Tropic Zone", and it was packed with only PUP members. When they were finished counting the votes, Alan Arthurs won the convention to run for PUP against the United Democratic Party candidate Paul Guerrero. Many PUP members complained that Alan Arthurs won that convention because the leader of their party George Price, the premier, sent Ducho Thomas to come to Dangriga Town and give most of the party cards to Alan Arthurs.

Well, the Dangriga PUP people were so angry that they vowed not to vote for Alan Arthurs when the general election was scheduled in 1974. Some of them even called the prime minister to drop Alan Arthurs' candidacy but they were completely rebuffed by him. When the general elections came, the people of Dangriga Town voted unanimously for Paul Guerrero and he became our new representative. One would think that the PUP would have learnt something from this but they did not. Both the PUP and the UDP have been accused of having what we call in Belize "rigged conventions". These are conventions when the party executive favours a particular candidate and will do any and everything in their power to make him or her win the convention to be their party's candidate.

Over the years, the new method that is being used is called "endorsement". This is when they set a deadline date for the members of the party to submit their applications to run for a vacant office. If they do not comply with this rule, and only one candidate has submitted his or her application on time, then that candidate will be endorsed by the party to be their nominee. It was brought to my attention that there have been times when members of the parties were asked to discontinue their candidacies. If they complied they would later be given rewards and inducements for honouring their party's request.

I think this is the time for the House of Representatives to pass legislation to deal with how political party conventions should be conducted in Belize. I believe that when a person registers to vote, he or she should have the right to decide which party they are affiliated with. If they do not want to be affiliated with a political party, their voter registration card should show "Independent". If they choose this designation, they would have to change it to a specific party in order to vote in a UDP, PUP, VIP, PNP or another political party's convention.

Many Belizean people are afraid to let people know whether they are PUP, UDP or another political party, for fear of political repercussions and vindictiveness by the political party in government. If that is the case, then they should just leave their identification card with the designation as an "Independent". The PUP, UDP and the other political parties will then be aggressively trying to get them to join their parties.

Until this is done we will always have problems with the party conventions in Belize. When the conventions are finished it takes a while for a political party to heal all its wounds from the blood that was shed. If the wounds are not healed, they risk losing the election whenever it is held. The PUP and the UDP have both lost many elections due to rigged conventions and bad endorsements. It cannot continue to be "My or our way and if you do not like it you all can hit the highway." Because, yes, they will be hitting the highway indeed, driving over the speed limit to vote against their own parties.

In the end, winning is part of keeping or gaining power and losing is what nobody wants to be a part of. I hope that sensible minds will prevail to see the importance of addressing this issue in our beloved country of Belize.

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