Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2016. 11:20 am CST.
By BMG Staff: The dust has barely even settled on last November’s general elections, and already both parties are looking to install new leaders to take the reins and usher in a new era in Belize’s political landscape.
For the People’s United Party (PUP), after a dramatic defeat at the polls in November, it was obvious things would need to change soon after the elections but for the United Democratic Party (UDP) it is a bit interesting that they have decided to select a new leader this soon into the current term of government.
The PUP will hold their its leadership convention at the end of January and the UDP will hold its own in March; a two-month difference. This will mean, then, that both parties will have roughly an equal amount of time to prepare for the next general election, which most likely will be called in 2020.
It does not mean, however, that both parties will be equally ready when that time comes. The PUP has had well documented internal problems over the last year or so, while the UDP has been run like a well oiled machine with Prime Minister Dean Barrow as the captain of that ship.
The PUP’s candidate selection is made up of old faces, none of which are strangers to political scandal and two of whom have already had a chance to lead that party. There are those that believe that Cordel Hyde would be the most suitable leader for the party at this point but the majority consensus is that his selection is unlikely.
The two perceived front runners in that race appear to be John Briceno and Francis Fonseca, who each have colorful histories as leader of the “grand ole party”, to say the least. That history standing between each man is a tumultuous one, as is evident in the bitter social media battles taking place between supporters from each camp.
The PUP leadership convention is supposed to heal an injured party and unite the fragmented factions, but judging from the bitter nature of the pre-convention campaigns, it seems like the PUP could be headed toward much of the same internal turmoil that has plagued it and caused it to remain winless since its fall from grace in 2008.
Fonseca’s change of heart since deciding to step away from politics after his party’s trouncing in the last election is viewed, in many circles, as a last shot attempt by the “old guard” to hold on to what bit of
power is left to grasp on to. Old guard critics are convinced that faction is of the mentality that the UDP can’t possibly win four consecutive elections so all they need to do is remain in control of the opposition until inevitably being restored to power.
Then there are those who believe Briceno has hurt the party irreparably with his comments on a secret recording that surfaced last year, accusing top ranking members of the last PUP government of gross corruption. It is also believed, however, that of the three candidates, Briceno is the most capable of getting investors to inject much needed finances into the party.
If either Briceno or Fonseca wins, it is likely the infighting will continue between supporters of each camp, unless one can rid the party of the other completely.
For the UDP, choosing a new leader this early means that whoever is chosen will have the benefit of being groomed and mentored by Barrow, who has ruled with an iron fist but has proven his careful strategics to be immensely successful. Of course, this doesn’t mean his best qualities will automatically rub off. It also doesn’t guarantee the UDP success after Barrow, Michael Finnegan and Anthony “Boots” Martinez all step down, leaving voids in constituencies that have been party strongholds for the last two decades.
Though no names have been officially entered into the UDP race yet, it is expected that Patrick Faber
and John Saldivar will both contest the convention. Gaspar Vega may yet decide to throw his hat in the race as well but he hasn’t given any public indication to suggest he will at this point. There may be a few other hopefuls popping out the woodwork as well.
The obvious benefit for the UDP, of course, is having current party leader, Barrow, mentoring its new leader, preparing him/her for the hurdles of leading the party and potentially the country. Barrow will, no doubt, try to leave the party in as good a position as possible to win the next election but grooming and mentoring can only go so far because whoever takes over will be free to run the party as they see fit.
Whenever selecting a new leader in any organization, certain factors always play a role, especially when selecting a leader to potentially rule a nation: ego, ambition, favoritism, opposing factions etc. These are the basic elements of human nature, and the UDP is likely to experience some of this at some level, even if they won’t admit it.
And while the UDP has seen a few of its ministers accused of corruption and mixed up in scandal, it has managed to appease the public for the most part, earning a historic third consecutive victory in the post-independence era. There are some who believe that further scandal during the course of this current term in office could be the party’s undoing, much the same way the last PUP government became vilified and has struggled to regain public support.
At this point it’s anyone’s game but both parties would be wise to heed lessons from the past if they wish to have a successful future.
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