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Referendum legislation to be amended

Posted: Sunday, November 27, 2016. 10:55 a.m. CST.

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By BBN Staff: The Government of Belize will reduce the referendum threshold from 60 to 50 per cent plus one by amending the existing Referendum Act.

This motion come on Wednesday when the Senate debates the special agreement on taking the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a quest to settle the long standing border dispute with Guatemala.

In 2013, Guatemala withdrew from the process and since then Belize considered an amendment to allow for a simple majority.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs has welcomed this decision stating that the referendum act as it is presently formulated was not intended to be the threshold that would be used for a general referendum.

Elrington said that what is being done to the referendum act is making it identical to the general election regime where with 50 plus there would be a successful outcome of the referendum. “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.”

“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 be 50 plus one to be successful.  So that is all that it involves nothing more than that,” he added.

Elrington also spoke about the Special Agreement “Compromis” and recognized that while both countries were bound to that accord, it was quickly noted that simultaneous referendums would not have been convenient for either Belize or Guatemala.

According to Elrington, “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.

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