The Belize government says it will reduce the referendum threshold from 60 to 50 per cent plus one by amending the existing Referendum Act.

The move by the Dean Barrow administration comes as the Senate on Wednesday debates the special agreement on taking the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to settle the long standing border dispute with Guatemala.

Since Guatemala withdrew from the process in 2013, Belize has been contemplating an amendment to allow for a simple majority instead.

Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, is welcoming the planned amendment to the Referendum Act.

“It is a good sign to my mind. From the time we have started having elections, general elections the law has been that for you to have a winner at the election that person must get 50 per cent of the vote plus on, where the other contenders get less than that.

“The one who gets the most, 50 per cent plus one of the votes, that one is elected. What we are doing with the Referendum Act is to make it identical to the general elections regime whereby with 50 plus one you have a successful outcome of the referendum. The Referendum Act as presently formulated was not intended to be the threshold that we would use for a general referendum.

“We had thought of the referendum for the Guatemalan issue from as early as the sixties, that was something that we were committed to and at that time the contemplation was that a Referendum Act would simply be50 plus one to be successful. So that is all that it involves nothing more than that,” Elrington added.

Asked to comment on the Special Agreement known as the “Compromis”, Elrington acknowledged that while both countries were bound to that accord, it was quickly realized that simultaneous referenda would not have been convenient for either Belize or Guatemala.

“The Special Agreement is nothing other than a mechanism which we had to sign on to as part of the requirement of the laws of the ICJ for us to be able to access their services. We had to get a referendum decision by the people, okay.

“When we initially signed that agreement in 2008, the contemplation was that we would both hold the election on the same day. But difficulties arose immediately thereafter because, for one, the Guatemalans normally hold their elections on a Sunday.

“We never hold elections on Sundays and for that and other reasons it was thought that making the requirement a simultaneous referendum may be difficult for us to attain. It would be easier, it is thought, for us to go at the times most convenient for each country and so that’s all we have done. We have amended to allow for each country to choose its own time to go for the referendum,” he added.