By Aaron Humes: Almost 3 thousand delegates are eligible to vote in today’s special National Convention of the People’s United Party.
As of this evening at the Belmopan Comprehensive School off the Ring Road, the party will have an undisputed leader, selected by its members. But in only one case would that person be entirely new.
Recent leader Francis Fonseca is seeking a return to his post and he is being challenged by former leader John Briceno and Lake Independence area representative Cordel Hyde.
For the post of deputy party leader, there were 6 nominations for four regional posts. Hon. Florencio Marin Jr and Hon. Jose Mai will square off for Northern Region Deputy Leader; Hon. Julius Espat will be confirmed with no challengers in the West; Hon. Mike Espat and Hon. Rodwell Ferguson go at it for leadership of the South; and first-time representative Hon. Kareem Musa ascends to Eastern Region Deputy. For the post of National Communications director, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Anthony Marla, and Emilio Zabaneh are nominated. Victor Espat is the sole nominee as National Campaign Manager; likewise Anthony Sylvestre Jr. as legal advisor; and Ramon Cervantes Jr. as treasurer, while current chairman Henry Charles Usher faces a challenge from Hon. Oscar Requena.
Polling starts at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 3:00 p.m. Counting will take place immediately after.
Prior to the opening of polls the convention will ratify the amendment to Article 13 of the PUP Constitution as passed at the National Party Council meeting on Saturday January 9, 2016.
Voting for the Convention will be conducted almost like a general election, with a hundred-yard line established at the fence of the school beyond which only voters are allowed, with no campaigning permitted in that area.
Cell phones cannot be used inside the polling station, and Alternates will not be able to vote until after one in the afternoon and are to be recommended by the Chairperson of the Division on a prescribed form, to the attention of the Returning Officer. 5 polling stations will be set up in Buildings 2 and 3 at the school.
According to the Amandala newspaper, the last time PUP delegates had a chance to select a leader by voting was in March 2008, when about 650 delegates voted and chose Johnny Briceño, by a margin of only 20 votes, over Francis Fonseca.
Briceño retained the seat in a 2010 endorsement convention and served as leader until October 2011, when he stepped down. Mark Espat, who now serves as Ambassador for the ruling United Democratic Party, was interim PUP leader for just over a week, after which Fonseca was chosen as leader and endorsed in a convention in October 2011 – other candidates had dropped out.
He has served as PUP leader since, but on November 5, 2015, the day after his party suffered its 9th consecutive defeat at the polls since 2006, Fonseca announced that he would resign as Party Leader—but later decided on the advice of supporters that he would again contest the leadership.
Today’s vote represents Fonseca’s first challenge as leader of the PUP, and Briceño faces off with him for a second time. Hyde, meanwhile, won by the largest margin for the PUP in the last election; thus his delegation will be one of the largest, at nearly 130 strong.
In the 2008 convention, there were far less delegates for two reasons: only 1 delegate was chosen for each 100 votes the PUP had received in a particular division. At the time, Briceño, Espat and Hyde had mounted a vigorous campaign to change that number to 1 in 25.
While the 2008 convention proceeded without the change, in this year’s convention, the new formula will apply. The second reason why more delegates will get a chance to vote is that the PUP got more votes in the 2015 election than it did back in 2008, when its popularity fell at the polls.
While all candidates have been running vigorous campaigns both on the ground and on social media, primarily through Facebook campaigns, their focus has been on lobbying with the delegates with whom the power will lie on Sunday to decide on the leadership structure of the Opposition party—that is, whether the “old guard” will continue to hold the fort, or whether “new blood” will take over the reins of the PUP.
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