Yesterday, the UDP held its national convention in Dangriga Town. Unlike the recent one for the PUP, this was no big deal really, since there was no challenge for any of the four executive posts and they were all endorsed. But, the sudden resignation of Deputy Party Leader Gaspar Vega - did make it interesting - since Vega was absent and his post vacant, creating a kind of inner drama for the party beneath its calm exterior. Daniel Ortiz went south to drill down for drama. Here's his story:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
The grounds of Stann Creek Ecumenical College was overflowing with red shirts from supporters all across the country. Though it was mostly housekeeping, the ruling party made no apologies and enjoyed the comfort of its faithful gathered in masse.
Hon. Frank Papa Mena & Mayor Francis Humphreys "Welcome the UDP way, all the way, the only way."
Mayor Francis Humphreys "Let us hear you, UDP."
For this party convention to validate the endorsements, two-thirds of the delegates on the list needed to have shown up. They had no problem making quorum because the official count was that 97% of Party's delegates were present.
Alberto August - Chairman, UDP "Having just now been advised by the secretary general of the registered presence of 668 delegates of the 706. We are therefore well in order. We have more than enough to begin with this morning's proceedings."
Of the party's Area Reps., standard bearers and caretakers, everyone was present, except Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, who had resigned and indicated that he wouldn't accept his re-endorsement as the 1st Deputy Leader.
But of the 30 politicians on the stage, only 2 of them are positioned to take Vega's place. The two men who could be new second in charge were seated on the right and left of Party Leader Dean Barrow.
And while those are individual ambitions, together, the 30 are hoping the voting population will view them a unit, "One Team, One Dream".
The party invited celebrated scientist and scholar - and Dangriga homeboy, Belizean American Physicist, Dr. Arlie Petters to speak to the delegates
Dr. Arlie Petters - Guest Speaker, UDP Convention "You know and I know that it is no joke running a country. That is one heap of stress. You're putting out fires every day, you're dealing with threats to our nation's economic and geographical sovereignty, you're dealing with ungratefulness, you're dealing with back stabbing, front stabbing and side stabbing. You are criticized when you do something, when you do nothing. You are criticized when you are trying to do good - madas."
As the convention's order of business continued along, one by one the Chairman, the Deputy Chairman, the Second Deputy Party Leader, and the Leader of the Party Leader swore the oath of office once again and resumed their roles in the UDP.
Then, it was time for the Leader to give the talk everyone had been waiting for. He noted that this would be his last UDP convention before he retires completely from politics.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Leader, UDP "This is the last time that a convention of the United Democratic Party will ever endorsed me as leader. You know, I know, the country knows, the world knows that not later than January of the year 2020, The very year by then with which we must have the next general elections. I will depart as the leader of this party and as prime minister of the country. Ladies and gentlemen, that is at it should be. Things change. The old must give way to the new."
But despite that, Barrow is optimistic that his party will go on without him and he's predicting a 4th consecutive victory in the 2020 General Elections.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Leader, UDP "We know that it will be perhaps more difficult than ever, ours most difficult challenge to win a fourth term, but we also know that we can do it and that there is absolutely no reason in the world why we shouldn't do it."
There were a few other housekeeping issues. The party's constitution was amended to include a proper voting platform for the Secretary General on party matters. Also, provisions were added to allow for the calling of an extraordinary national convention in the event of a UDP official's departure due to death, or in this case, if another official resigns like how Gaspar Vega did.
Patrick And John Make Their Case
So, as we've told you, both John Saldivar and Patrick Faber want to become the new 1st Deputy Party Leader.
They both launched their campaigns today, and yesterday, we got a chance hear both make their political pitch:
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security "I believe that my biggest strength has to be my performance as area representative for Belmopan and what I've been able to deliver for my people in my constituency - something I would want to see happen in other constituencies and I am sure that as deputy leader I would be able to influence that process. Other than that, I believe I've done an okay job as Minister of National Security and with my colleagues we get along well and I expect that they are going to give me that nod."
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "My record of working in this party and building relationships and taking care of the people in this party is great and that is the primary foundation upon which I will lead my campaign. But as all know, it will also signal once you become the deputy leader, that you are also the deputy prime minister. And assisting the Prime Minister in the work of the government is also very key and so my work, again, will speak for itself and that is the basis upon which I will bank. The work of the Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports, Culture is very important work. I believe that I've delivered well on these fronts and so I am asking people for a support for something much larger."
By our count, there are about 650 delegates in the party - and so the successful candidate would need about 33 delegates to win. Today Patrick Faber launched his candidacy via a press conference and said that he already has that number. We're still editing that story so you can see it at the end of the newscast.
We'll tell you about that, but yesterday, we asked the Prime Minister if he's worried that the feud over the vacant position could bring further disunity to his party. He said better now, when he's around to fix it than in 2020 when he will not be present to play mediator:
Daniel Ortiz "Is it a concern for you that the combat that must take place between them for this second convention will caused a rift in the party?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Party Leader, UDP "No. I am sure there will be some bruise feelings and wounds that will be opened up. But better now than in 2020 or later 2019 when I go. There would need to be a convention for leader at that time. My sense is that most people see what's going to happen now as a kind of dry run for 2019 or 2020 and I think the hope is that whoever wins now, will be seen as having a lock on 2020 and that might actually result in our avoiding having another convention. If that's how it turns out, so much the better. Let us have the fight now and let us have therefore years after the fight takes place, to heal all wounds."
So, either of the two candidates who wins this convention in the few months could become Barrow's replacement in 4 years from now. That person could become the next Prime Minister, and so, we asked them about their aspiration for the highest elected office:
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "What I will campaign on of course is firstly my record of commitment to this party. This is first a party matter and of course we want leadership that can lead this party into the next term, the next historic move that we will make is that fourth consecutive victory and so that has got to be paramount at what we do in terms of the election of our party's leader. Of course you know down the road in 2020. There will be what I referred to as the "big dance" and so I intend as well to contest for the leadership of the party and so I see this as a kind of stepping stone."
Reporter "How can you expect to be prime minister when you are not readily available to the media?"
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security "I am not sure I agree with you that that's a weakness. But yes, I am sure that given my new role, if it is granted to me that I will certainly have to make myself more available to the media. But I have all other ways in staying in touch with my constituency and now I'll have to find other ways in staying in touch with the entire country."
Reporter "Mr. Faber has expressed interest in that seat as well. Do you feel that this is something that's going to divide the party?"
Hon. John Saldivar, Minister of National Security "Absolutely not. I don't see that it is going to be anything that is going to be divisive. Minister Faber and I are longtime friends, we remained good friends. This is a healthy contest, a healthy challenge."
PM Says: Ask Vega
And as you in that story, Gaspar Vega was nowhere to be seen at the convention. According to incumbent Party Chairman Alberto August, there were representatives from his constituency of Orange Walk North.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Barrow was willing to take questions on the hot button subject, and he told us that we'd have to ask Vega why he stepped down:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Leader, UDP "In terms of my personal conversation with him, he repeated what's in the letter that he really has grown tired and he does not want to contest the next general elections and in that context he doesn't want to continue as first deputy. Because had he been endorsed today, that would have been for 4 years because as you see, we have changed the constitution. So there will not be another convention until just under 4 years' time and that's to accommodate the fact that I am going at that junction. There clearly is, apart from what he had said, factors that I am sure influenced his decision, but as to what exactly those are, I am sure when the media gets a chance to talk to him he might wish to in fact expound on those. He has been with me as the number 2 from the time of the general elections in 2008. He has been a colleague and he has been a friend, so his departure now does leave me experiencing a personal sense of loss. I salute him..."
Reporter "Do you regret or do you think that perhaps the taking away of natural resources was a deciding factor for him and was that a decision that perhaps you have some regrets about?"
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Party Leader, UDP "No, the thing is that he has not said that and I have no reason to come to such a conclusion."
Since entering politics in 2006, Gaspar Vega and his brothers have been been significant financiers of the UDP. So, we asked both Prime Minister Barrow and the Party Chairman if the party has suffered financially because of his exit. Here's what they told us:
Daniel Ortiz "Our information was that he and his brothers were major financers of the United Democratic Party. With his exit, do you all suffer any issues financially because of his withdrawal from the UDP?"
Alberto August "One of the trademark of our party is that we have the ability to rebound. There are some things that we don't have any control over, so we always have the ability to rebound from any mishap that occurs in this party."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Party Leader, UDP "He was certainly a key figure in the north. I think he raised funds and assisted any number of candidates in the north. So as I've said earlier, his departure does leave a void. It is a void that we will fill. It will take us some time to fill it, but for now we acknowledge that there will be this effort longer term that we'll have to make. We solute Gapi, his departure and the void that it leaves, it a sense helps to underline how crucial a player he was."