Thursday, November 5th 2015.By Richard Harrison: Belize held its 8th general elections after Independence yesterday.
For the first time since Independence in 1981, a party and prime minister has won three general elections in a row.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his United Democratic Party (UDP) has gained ground, winning at least 19 of the 31 seats, with one area being recounted today. He almost lost the general elections of 2012, winning only 17 of the 31 seats; two of the seats coming in areas where PUP standard bearers withdrew their candidacy for the party shortly before the elections, and two from very narrow wins where the PUP were under-financed and poorly organized.
People’s United Party (PUP) leader Francis Fonseca won his seat, but has led his party to its fifth electoral defeat since the general elections in 2012.
The UDP government reactivated the PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela shortly after its 2012 victory, which made available hundreds of millions in concessionary credit for the Government of Belize. They embarked on massive infrastructure spending on highways, streets, roads, drains and recreational areas in all cities and towns, and then spread to villages and rural areas over the past eight months. All of this eased the high unemployment situation and created a visible and tactile change in the topography of cities, towns and villages never before seen in Belize.
At the same time, they implemented a host of projects that directly benefited many thousands of individuals….from mortgage and student loan write-offs, medical bills write-offs, housing improvement grants, cash transfers, food grants, education scholarships and grants, etc…..to significant salary increases for teachers and public sector employees. Many, many thousands of voters directly “felt the love” that eased their pain.
In the months leading up to this election, they resolved differences with the previous owners of the nationalized utility companies and reached amicable settlement. This perhaps, along with squeezing of other potential financiers of the PUP, may have disarmed the enemy before the battle on the ground begun. Many potential financiers and voters may have sat on the fence watching…but obviously did not see what they wanted to see.
There were scandals of corruption galore….a major embarrassment in the Sarstoon regarding the handling of the Guatemala claim….rats and snakes and dead babies in hospitals….massive flooding in Belize City and other areas after unusually heavy rains two weeks before the elections….and a host of other potentially inflammable political events and scenarios. The opposition focused their campaign on these “fleeting” negatives, instead of designing a deeper compact for a better future and selling it as directly beneficial to many more voters, while promising to keep the direct benefits implemented by the UDP going. People’s buying behavior reacts more to fear of losing existing benefits, and less to potential gains.
These sprint elections of 36 days notice saw an emotional rally by the opposition PUP, obviously much better financed (in select divisions) than in the previous 4 elections, but still rather weak in delivering a focused, appealing message and poorly organized election machinery in many of the electoral divisions; with no obvious overarching, national political strategy and campaign machinery management….in the end, it became each to his own, especially for the so-called dissident faction. The UDP on the other hand had all pistons pumping in tandem, obviously well financed across the board and with much superior national election machinery management.
The stage for these last three elections was set from January 5, when the UDP invested in a national campaign strategy for the Cayo North bi-election outspending the PUP 10:1 and winning with a 2:1 majority. This set in motion a MOMENTUM that has remained through to this election. The building and maintenance of momentum is a key element of any winning strategy.
The UDP campaign theme “the best is yet to come” has to do with first fixing the problems in the foreign exchange-generating sugar, citrus and banana industries…and the financial sector uncertainties…while concurrently phasing in fiscal and debt-management reform, justice system reform and political reform measures to improve the enabling environment for much more successful private investments (especially productive sector) and jobs, improved safety and security and reduction of corruption….these are the principal areas where the first two terms of the UDP government has been weak….and continuing to do the same things will not achieve the desired results….important changes in strategy and people need to be made.
The people of Belize have spoken loud and clear….they do not believe the UDP is perfect….but they also do not believe that the PUP, at this time and in its current shape and form, is a worthwhile alternative….and they rewarded the budding Belize Progressive Party enough for them to remain a work-in-progress, a new player in the Belize political landscape.
The workers and youth of Belize especially, must remain actively vigilant, and become better organized and more demanding if their best interest is to be served….they should know by now that nothing is “free”….and that the benefits of salary increases, grants and debt-forgiveness are short-term in an environment of relatively low competitiveness and productivity….which are marked by relatively lower growth, higher inflation, higher taxation, higher unemployment and higher poverty.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the United Democratic Party must be congratulated for their overwhelming victory, and ALL Belizeans must pledge to work with them for an enhanced social, economic and political development of our beloved country, Belize.
Long live Belize!!! Her sovereignty, democracy, freedom and peace…forward ever…
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Belize Media Group.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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