The UDP will once again be going to a
national convention - the party's fourth in just over two years. It
takes place this Sunday when the UDP's 516 delegates choose whether
Tracy Panton or Shyne Barrow will become the party's next leader.
And ahead of that convention, we sat down with the Party's chairman
Micheal Peyrefitte to ask him about the last two conventions and
whether the results of this one will produce a lasting period of
stability for the struggling opposition. Here's that exchange:
"Chairman this is the fourth national convention since February of
2020. Is this indicative of a party in turmoil?"
Micheal Peyrefitte - Chairman of the United Democratic Party
"Absolutely not it's a party that's alive, we believe in the democratic
process and when you have conventions that are due then they are due,
we are not weary of conventions, that is what political parties do, it
shows that we are not monolithic in any way, we don't dictate policies
to our members and to our people, if an opening comes up people are not
chosen and to sit in certain positions, you have to earn those
positions and even with another convention coming on Sunday that is
healthy for the United Democratic Party."
"These conventions were not due the first one had to occur because of
the issues with John Saldivar and Lev Dermen, the second one now is
having to occur because of issues with Patrick Faber and his personal
life, how can we have confidence in the next leader of the UDP that
these delegates select?"
"Well, both cases involving Hon. John Saldivar and Hon. Patrick Faber
they indeed became due because they resigned when an elect officer
within the party resigns, you have to have a convention and so nobody
forced any of those two gentlemen to resign, they resigned on their
own, so we don't play with the leadership of the party. If a particular
leader - if we have to because we just don't install leaders of the
UDP, you have to earn that position."
Peyrefitte: Politics Is a Contact Sport
And earning the position is more often than not fraught with both
difficulties and double-crossings but the chairman says that's just the
nature of the beast, here's what he said about the political health of
the UDP and why he thinks the last two years of upheaval are just what
the doctor ordered:
"The characterization sir is that it has been a few years of
fractiousness and in fighting in the UDP. You said you do not agree..."
Micheal Peyrefitte - Chairman of the United Democratic Party
"I did not said I did not agree, I said it's not a problem, it's
politics, politics is full contact, politics is in your face, it's the
nature of the business, it is not a cause for alarm, not everybody is
made for it but once you have decided that you are a politician so to
speak and you're in the business of politics, well then it's not warm
and fuzzy, it's not warm and fuzzy 99% of the time, it's the nature of
the business even the PUP have their own internal wrangling, you're
going to hear about that soon too because that is what political
organizations go through."
We also asked Peyrfitte about the culture that one convention after the
other has wrought among the party's delegates, and whether it's likely
to have bred a list that's rife with corruption but the Chairman for
his part told us that his delegates are as innocent as the ones in the
Can The UDP Unite Behind New Leader
But what many thousands of voters who call themselves UDP want to know
is whether the party can finally unify behind a leader for the medium
to long term. We put that question to the chairman:
"Will this convention once it's new leader is declared serve in anyway
to united this party?"
Micheal Peyrefitte - Chairman of the United Democratic Party
"Well absolutely, both parties have agreed that who ever is victorious
on Sunday, the party will get behind that leader and give that leader
it's full support which ever way it can to move the party forward
because after Sunday, there is no more Tracy camp or Shyne camp, after
Sunday we're one United Democratic Party and we go again, if the needs
be, conventions are coming up in the future, they will have to take
place, that's the nature of politics."
"We all know the nature of Shyne Barrow, he's not a take it as you will
type of guy, were he to lose, you would think that he would not give
up, that he would somehow continue trying to strive to become the party
leader at the next point when that is due. What would you say to that?"
"Well I don't see how that will be different from Hon. Panton, I think
if you have anybody who is in a leadership position in an organization,
if they don't want to serve in the ultimate position of service, which
the leader of that organization, I would tell you that they are lying
because like I said before, whoever wins on Sunday, will unify behind
that one person. When we have conventions again in the future, they are
due under the constitution of the UDP and those conventions will have
to be held. Remember, this is a special convention because a leader has
resigned, it doesn't mean whoever wins on Sunday is the leader for
When Will We Know The Winner?
And all of Belize - PUP's, UDP's and casual observers will be watching
and waiting to see who will emerge victorious - after all, the fate of
the opposition really dictates the state of the democracy.
So, how early will the results be known?
The chairman has counted those 500+ delegate votes more than once, and
here's his forecast for an early finish:
"Sir once the convention starts on Sunday, how soon can the public
expect to have a result?"
Micheal Peyrefitte - Chairman of the United Democratic Party
"As soon as we're finished counting. We start at 10 for delegates and 2
o'clock we start for alternates. The voting stops at 3 and we begin to
count immediately after. So I'm hoping, it's my hope and expectation
that by 4-4:30 you will already know."
UDP Convention Will Observe COVID Measures
And with multiple conventions in the last two years, two of them had to
be held under strict Covid measures.
We asked the chairman if that would be the case this time, and he told
us that when it comes to masks and hand sanitizers, nothing about the
protocols of recent conventions has changed:
Micheal Peyrefitte - Chairman of the United Democratic Party
"Well the standard COVID measures that are in place now for the law,
you keep your distance for those people, we encourage them to wear
their mask, it's an open air facility, so given the law, you don't have
to use but certainly we will do all that we can do to limit the
movement and the congestion at the Bird's Isle Sunday, both camps have
agreed that there will be a cut off by the entrance of Bird's Isle, no
congregation, no campaigning, you go in, you vote, you leave, we count,
we declare a new leader."
The UDP convention will take Place this Sunday, March 27th at Bird's
Isle and Channel 7 will be there with live coverage.
Moses "Shyne" Barrow elected in close contest at UDP leadership convention
Official results from the United Democratic Party's leadership convention indicate Hon. Shyne Barrow is the new elected party leader. Barrow received 256 votes while Hon. Tracy Taegar-Panton received 253.
Yesterday at the Bird's Isle in Belize City - the UDP held its 4th national convention in just over two years. This was the third convention to select a leader - which may set a high water mark for internal turmoil in the party's 49 year old history.
But, they say politics is the art of the possible - and the party went into Sunday's convention in the hope that it could emerge united, with a strong mandate for a strong leader. But, that's not quite how it played out - and tonight there are fresh wounds inside the body politic of the UDP. Jules Vasquez was at the Bird's Isle yesterday and has the story:
For Tracy Taegar Panton's camp - the day started with a prayer at her office.
Shyne Barrow was in the tents with his campaigners.
The 516 party delegates would have to choose whether the "Time is Now" for Tracy or If Shyne Barrow was "the Change They Believe In".
Shyne Barrow, Aspirant for UDP Leader "I have ham currently about 22 or 21 constituency leaders supporting me who are the leaders of the constituency and I have about 23 executive committees who are voting today that have pledge their support for me."
When Tracy Taegar Panton arrived flanked day her brother - she brought the drums - and the combustion from Patrick Faber's Collet delegates - though Faber himself was not there.
Reporter "Begin by talking to us about your energy coming into the convention this morning."
Tracy Taegar Panton, UDP Aspirant For Leader "It's at an all-time high. I think you can see that as we approach the convention hall this morning. We've done the work, we've visited with the delegates, we've made the case and we feel very confident that we will deliver on our commitment to unite and to heal and to rebuild the United Democratic Party."
Reporter "You've been beset by personal tragedy as well as other obstacles, how do you maintain your resolve in terms of proceeding with your campaign and being able to canvass as many delegates across the country?"
Tracy Taegar Panton "You know the man that I married would not want me to step away from my dreams or my hopes and aspirations for this country and so that gives me strength."
For the convention fatigued UDP it was the fourth such event in 25 months - certainly a sign of deep internal crisis, but that notion wasn't being entertained today:
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "This is very healthy for democracy."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "And I think it's healthy for the democracy of the party."
Jules Vasquez "It's upheaval, Edmond."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "No, I don't think so. Man, the moment you could mobilize and bring your people together, then its better off for you."
Jules Vasquez "This is the fourth national convention the UDP is having since January of 2020. How much is that a reflection on your leadership and your tenure as leader that you left the party in a fractious and fractured state?"
Dean Barrow, Former Party Leader "But I don't understand that at all. How can you say that I left the party in a fractured and fractious state? After I left and remember I stop being leader for a year before the elections. What those who come after me do? It's a matter for them. I can't have any control of that. When you are no longer leader, you are no longer leader. How will you blame me for what happened post my leadership? Not proper, sir, not correct."
And while Barrow deflected blame - he was fully in support of his son:
Jules Vasquez "There were complaints on the other side that you were too active in the campaign, that you were using your clout as a former leader to encourage people to vote for your son."
Dean Barrow, Former Party Leader "Well, I don't know that that is so, but if it is so, what's wrong with that?"
Jules Vasquez "People feel its an unfair advantage."
Dean Barrow, Former Party Leader "Exactly so, how can that be an unfair advantage? Man, I earn my stripes, I serve as leader of the party for all these years, I was 3-time prime minister. Doesn't that entitled me to call in whatever chips I may have in support of my son?"
There were other former ministers also in support of his son
And indeed Shyne Barrow's power base seemed to be rooted in the north - including his campaign manager Tony Herrera. and first Deputy Hugo Patt. While Elodio Aragon walked with his Tracy shirt. And Frank Pawpa Mena wore black.
But the music played under the collet tent. And this former minister showed out with his dance moves.
Out on the street, it was like an Election Day atmosphere with scrutineers' tents and all. Probably more signs than there were delegates - and intense passion for the candidates:
Voter "Do the right thing, you see it?"
And indeed, it was hard to tell who had the advantage:
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "I think its a was very close election. I wouldn't say nobody will get a blowout by 50 or 100. I would nearly want to go between 3 to 5 - the thing close man, the thing close."
He would be prophetic - so close that by a few minutes after 3:00, both sides were declaring victory. And eventually stronger reports indicated that Shyne Barrow had won:
Tracy Taegar Panton "The people have spoken and when the people have spoken, we must respect the people, simple as that."
But, that concessionary spirt would change soon:
Roosevelt Blades, Tracy's Campaign Manager "I requested a recount; I was refused a recount. There were discrepancies in the counting process and I will not accept it."
Jules Vasquez "So you don't feel that the greatest spirit of democracy was upheld here today?"
Roosevelt Blades "There were certain discrepancies that I'm not happy with and that is my position."
That forced a quick meeting with the parties.
Tracy Taegar Panton "Let's do the recount."
And they took that appeal to the chairman
But when Elrington went to tell Shyne the body language said it all - he seemed strongly against it - even as Elrington tried to appeal to him.
And when the chairman rejected the appeal - they went to hug up - some more explaining seemed to bring things closer to an accord. And the chairman made it official:
Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman - UDP "256 in favour of Hon. Barrow and 253 in favour of Hon. Panton."
Jules Vasquez "There is some dispute about the outcome. I heard Roosevelt Blades say he is not being allowed a recount that he has asked for. What's your position on that?"
Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman - UDP "Well, we've had from early this morning gone through the process, we had the scrutineers come in, we explained everything to the representatives, watch the process, because at the end of the day the process will determine everything. The entire day we went through, both sides were happy with how the people came in, voted, deposited their ballots. When it was finished, the ballots were counted and when they were counted, nobody had any concerns about how the counting took place. So, then it wouldn't have made a difference. Thats the result - 256-253 already tells you how the party is divided. Its close no matter what. Thats the count. There was no discrepancy in the count except for maybe one ballot. Going either way wouldn't make a difference."
Jules Vasquez "However, if it wouldn't have made a difference, why not just do it again, because its such a close outcome, you should exhaust all doubt, so that it is in doubtable because if the man is elected he may be stalked constantly by the fact that well we never win, we never got the recount etc."
Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman - UDP "Well, recount til when - 5 in the morning. I don't think any party will be satisfied with an outcome."
Jules Vasquez "You just have to recount once though."
Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman - UDP "No, then they will say recount again and then recount again. We had a clean and fair polling day, we had a clean and fair count. Its close. When its close it hurts even more, I understand that, but I think just going through a process and then having emotions just ride over and over in a count that I don't think would make a difference, would be futile and not in the best interest of the party."
Jules Vasquez "The leader of the UDP how does it feel, sir?"
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "I am extremely humbled and grateful and I definitely kudos for Hon. Panton for a hard-fought victory. She has proven herself as a formidable political force and we are shaking hands and we have agreed to work together for the interest of the United Democratic Party. Thank you to all the delegates that have given me their confidence today."
Jules Vasquez "Extremely close outcome - 256-253."
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "You said I would lose, so the ugly win is a better result than a pretty lose."
Jules Vasquez "You had significant advantages I feel in the campaign. You were able to campaign uninterrupted."
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "I overcame so many odds, so many historic possibilities that maybe people wanted to see Amia Mottley, maybe people wanted to see no more Barrow - all kind of things I overcome."
Jules Vasquez "You're a global icon, Shyne, it should have been a blowout."
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "Not according to you and not according to some people. You know that I have more disadvantages because of my global currency that I operate in as you so eloquently put it and I have many disadvantages because of being a Barrow, because you know there is a faction - I don't want to get into negativity, let me stay positive."
Jules Vasquez "Will you seriously commit yourself to the work of the party and not the work of global profiling, because sometimes we feel you get lost in the sauce."
Shyne Barrow, UDP Party Leader "That is your opinion that has been shepherded by the PUP narrative and that is what we have, we have a battle of the narratives, so first you don't care about Belize, you never use to talk about Belize, now you are promoting Belize, you are doing a better job that the minister of tourism, now you are doing too much. Human beings are never satisfied and if I would listen to human beings like you and the PUP, I would not be the leader of the United Democratic Party right now. Thank you!"
Is the UDP Delegate Pool Corrupt
And while Saldivar has his heart set on a full comeback - the UDP has some house cleaning to do. The new leader says he will launch a program of reforms starting with the delegates list. Those 500 plus delegates have been through a battery of conventions - and, let's just say, it's been a lucrative two years of political opportunities. But should only 500 people be able to legitimately determine who should lead a party that - at its very lowest point in 2020 - still had almost 60 thousand people vote for it?
We asked a number of party personalities about it:
Shyne Barrow, Party Leader, U.D.P. "I am a strong proponent of constitutional reform for the United Democratic Party and as far as the delegates list is concerned, what I believe needs to happen in the first instance is that delegates need to actually be elected, whereas the practice, contrary to the contrary to the constitution has been that delegates have been appointed. You just send your delegates list into the headquarters and that's it, you put your mom, your auntie, your sister, your wife, your daughter - everybody. So, then you could do what you want to do. I don't have a problem with family members being a part of your committee. What I do have a problem with is the constituents not participating in that election, that should not be a selection or an appointment, that should be an election. So under my leadership I will ensure that there are constituency conventions to elect the delegates."
Jules Vasquez "57,000 people voted for UDP in the last election, and 516 will select a leader. Thats...."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "I don't agree with it."
Jules Vasquez "It is open to corruption."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "I didn't say that, but long time I don't agree with that, because it's easy for you to come and deal with 5 from mine, 5 from that one and 7 from that one, open the thing man so more people can participate."
Jules Vasquez "But the process of selecting them also has to be different, because right now on your delegates list, I haven't seen it, but I am sure you have Helen, Wasani, Jaffari..."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "You see it then. No different from what everybody else do."
Jules Vasquez "It's not optimal, sir. It's not democracy."
Edmond Castro, Belize Rural North "That is perfect democracy, guided democracy."
Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman - UDP "That topic has been coming up more and more and the party will have to sit down on a whole and the NPC would lead the way in determining whether or not we want to broaden it or keep it the same, but I for one agree that it should be broader. However, that's not a matter just for me, it's a matter for the NPC and the national convention."
And the UDP continues to be the hot topic this week - and if you want more, new party leader Shyne Barrow will be the guest on Uncut this Wednesday.
U.D.P. Embraces Shyne Barrow as Its New Party Leader
The United Democratic Party has welcomed a new leader. All roads led to the big Bird's Isle on Sunday, where over five hundred delegates cast their votes to elect a successor for Patrick Faber. It was a festive and friendly affair, complete with drumming and well-wishing from both camps. The leadership convention was the culmination of a few weeks of active campaigning for Shyne Barrow and Tracy Taegar-Panton, and when the last ballot was counted, Shyne prevailed over his opponent by a mere three votes. Notwithstanding the razor thin margin of defeat, the work of incoming party leader to heal the deeply fractured U.D.P. is just beginning. News Five's Isani Cayetano has our first story.
Mike Peyrefitte, Chairman, U.D.P.
"Two fifty-six in favor of Honorable Barrow and two fifty-three in favor of Honorable Panton."
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
Shyne Barrow's meteoric rise to the highest office in the United Democratic Party, in a victory clinched only by a hairsbreadth, is the fastest ascent to the leadership of a political organization in Belize's history. The rapper turned politician was the favored candidate going into Sunday's convention. Many thought that Barrow would have won decisively, but his opponent, Tracy Panton, came within a few votes of an upset. Delegates from across all thirty-one constituencies descended on that venue to cast their vote. Arriving with a celebratory procession of supporters, Panton made her way to Bird's Isle shortly after ten a.m.
"We've done the work.� We visited with the delegates. We've made the case and we feel very confident that we will deliver on our commitment to unite, to heal and rebuild the United Democratic Party."
"You've been beset by personal tragedy as well as other obstacles. How do you maintain your resolve in terms of proceeding with your campaign and being able to canvass as many delegates across the country?"
"You know, the man that I married would not want me to step away from my dreams or my hopes and aspiration for this country and so that gives me strength. And I know that he, along with my entire family, are there for me, protecting me, guiding me, supporting me, loving me through this and if that doesn't strengthen somebody, something is wrong."
Equally driven by the ambition to win the convention and follow in his father's footsteps to someday lead this country, Shyne Barrow and his supporters were also a visible presence at the location.
Shyne Barrow, Leadership Candidate, U.D.P.
"My campaign has been very practical, very grassroots, you know, not with bells and whistles and, you know, any type of circus activity but just really directly with the delegates. You know, I've refrained from media and publicity and just dealt directly with the delegates and so I'm very comfortable with those conversations and very comfortable with those commitments and it has been very inspiring when you listen to the unique challenges and aspirations that Belizeans who are U.D.P. and Belizeans all over have and what they want for their country and what they want in their party leader."
Those attributes are embodied in his father. Since taking over leadership of the party in 1998, Dean Barrow remained in opposition for ten years before a three-term winning streak cemented his legacy. His influence over the U.D.P. is to Shyne's advantage.
Dean Barrow, Former Party Leader, U.D.P.
"I served as leader of the party for all these years, I was three-time prime minister doesn't that entitle me to call in whatever chips I may have in support of my son? There is nothing improper about that. There's nothing at all unfair, not in the least."
"Predicting any outcome for today, sir?"
"No, I only have a hope that my son will win."
At the end of the convention, Shyne would indeed emerge victorious, getting away, as some would say, by the skin of his teeth. The narrow margin of victory, however, prompted others in Panton's camp to request a recount of the number of ballots cast.
"We had from early this morning gone through the process. We had the scrutineers come in, we explained everything to the representatives, watch the process because at the end of the day, the process will determine everything. The entire day we went through, both sides were happy with how the people came in, voted, deposited their ballots. When it was finished, the ballots were counted and when they were counted nobody had any concerns about how the counting took place. So then, it wouldn't have made a difference.� That's the result; two fifty-six to two fifty-three already tells you how the party is divided.� It's close, no matter what, that's the count and there was no discrepancy in the count, except for maybe one ballot.� Going either way wouldn't make a difference."
Here's how Shyne reacted to that slim victory.
Shyne Barrow, Party Leader, U.D.P.
"You know, Michael Jordan has won championships by one basket, so it's nothing new in life. The party is a healthy reflection of democracy. I think we handled ourselves pretty well, there wasn't a lot of mudslinging any at all, you know, we kept it internal and Tracy and I have been in touch all throughout for parliamentary matters. Today when she walked in, I hugged her. When I walked past her as we're both campaigning today we would say hello to each other and we shook hands and we embraced and we will move forward."
Tracy Panton Discusses Voting Discrepancies
In her appearance on Open Your Eyes this morning, Tracy Panton alluded to certain discrepancies with the voting and counting process at Sunday's leadership convention. And according to Panton, while she was denied a recount, she does not intend to challenge the results in court.
Tracy Taegar-Panton, Area Representative, Albert Division
"I am still unclear what happened in the counting process. I say that because there were some discrepancies. At the end of the day, I had requested a recount, just to be absolutely clear because there were some discrepancies and at the end of the day I had requested a recount just to be absolutely clear because there were some discrepancies. The chairman of the Party in his, he has the right and authority to make that determination, refused for a recount and indicated that if I wanted a recount I needed to take the Party to court. That is not going to happen. This Party certainly does not need any further division or divisiveness as we try to rebuild. So, there I always that lingering thought that having the confirmation would have been helpful to the process of rebuilding and uniting, however I have accepted the results. We knew that it was going to be a tight race. We had no illusions about that. The results are in and our delegates have spoken and I do respect the view of the delegates."
"What are the discrepancies that made you feel you wanted reassurance?"
"In one of the boxes there were more ballots that actual persons who should have voted in that ballot box, for example. So, I think we really needed to have the recount just for absolute clarity in this process.� But, as I said I am certainly not going to take my Party to court in a situation like this, because of where we are and what we certainly need to do collectively do hold this administration to account."
"Is your entire team onboard with not proceeding with court action?"
"I am not sure that they are onboard. But, ultimately the decision rest with me. We all need to get some rest, emotions of course. There is a measure of disappointment."