|Johnny Briceño is the third party leader, and the only out-district leader, since the PUP party was founded.
The People’s United Party (PUP) convention to elect a new Party Leader was perhaps one of the biggest Political events in Belize since the February 7th General Election. Choosing a Leader for particular party does not happen often. The San Pedro Sun was in Belmopan from Saturday in a comprehensive coverage from the start of election process to the end at a victory rally in Orange Walk Town on Sunday night.
Last week Wednesday, Honorable Johnny Briceño visited San Pedro as part of his campaign bid for Party Leader of People’s United Party. Briceño was welcomed by the delegates of Belize Rural South who promised their support to him in the Convention. And on Sunday, Belize Rural South was amongst the 330 voters who elected Johnny Briceño as the new Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition. Briceño originally stepped out of the bid for Party Leader on March 13th calling the process “fraudulent” but after numerous calls from supporters across the country Briceño made a “come back” on March 25th. After he made a come-back he appeared to be the underdog in the bid for the PUP Party Leader.
Francis Fonseca, former Party Chairman of the PUP, had the endorsements of former Prime Ministers Right Honorable Said Musa and Right Honorable George Cadle Price. Fonseca also had the support of the rank and file of the Party including the two Deputy Leaders Juan Vildo Marin and Godfrey Smith as well as from Secretary General Henry Usher and Communication Director Yasser Musa.
On Sunday, March 30th, the game was different as thousands of supporters flocked to the Garden City in Belmopan; some to vote while others showed support, to elect either Johnny Briceño or Francis Fonseca.
As early as 8:30 in the morning, delegates and supporters began to arrive in buses and others in privately owned vehicles to take a stand within the Party and vote for a New Leader and by 10 in the morning, thousands turned out in blue and white shirts. Briceño supporters were in the thousands while Fonseca was in the minimal hundreds.
The scrutiny process started at ten and by midday, 640 delegates of 653 showed up. They were locked inside the Belmopan City Center, but not before various protest by delegates who were removed from the delegates list including former PUP Parliamentarian from Cayo, Dan Silva who openly supported Johnny Briceño. Casting of votes started at about 12:30 all the formalities inside closed walls only monitored outside by large speakers.
The voting and counting process took almost four hours until a few minutes after four. Briceño took a formidable lead against Fonseca who managed to close the gap when the second box was opened. However, when the dusk settled, Briceño emerged as the new Party Leader for the PUP in a narrowly contested election. First to reach the magic number which was 321 was Briceño who at the end got 330 votes while Fonseca settled for 310.
But, no later did Briceño reach the magic number, than his supporters swarmed the entrance of the building in celebration which was guarded by police. In his acceptance speech, Briceño acknowledge his opponents, “To Francis my brother, my friend, my colleague – I offer my thanks for being a worthy opponent and a true and honorable man. To my friend Mark Espat, I also offer my thanks for all always reminding us that we must do right by all manner of persons. Our victory is, one, not only for the party, but for the country and now we must begin to make good on our promise that we will be back in Belmopan in five years time.”
In speaking with The San Pedro Sun, Briceño said that his victory is for all. He said that, “This is a victory for the party, we have shown that we could come here as one family and elect a new party leader. I wish I could describe it but I am humbled by the people, the delegates who came out to give me their support and I want to promise them that I will not let them down, I will do my best to serve the PUP and this country.”
Briceño said that he will be engaged in a national consultation with the Party members and social partners to rebuild the trust and confidence of the electorates. He also pleaded to ensure that all areas of the country have a representation in the National Assembly. He had previously promised that if elected, a senator position would be assigned to Belize Rural South, something he reiterated in speaking with The Sun. Briceño said, “As I have said, one of the first thing we need to do to start to rebuild the Party is to ensure that all areas have a representation at the National Assembly and definitely the island will have a representation.”
Party Leader Johnny Briceño was welcome back home in Orange Walk Town by thousands of supporters who flocked the streets there. It seemed as something one would describe as an Independence Day Celebration where he addressed his supporters in an impromptu rally in front of at the Banquitas Square. Briceño told the gathering that, “It all started here in the 1950’s with the great Father of Nation George Price and it is back again here in 2008, 58 year later, thanks to the support of all of you who stood by me every step of the way. Thank you Corozal and Orange Walk, thank you Belize, thank you, God and I love you all.”
Briceño who is from Orange Walk Town makes history by becoming the first person to be a Party Leader of a party from out district. Party Leader Johnny Briceño succeeds the Right Honorable Said Musa who was at the helm of the party 12 years since 1996, after defeating Florencio Marin Sr. in a Party convention to replace Right Honorable George Price who was Party Leader of the PUP four decades, from 1956 to 1996.