By Richard Harrison: The People’s United Party (PUP) currently serves as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Belize, after losing the November 4, 2015 general elections to the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), who won 19 of the 31 seats in the House of Representatives.
The PUP constitution requires that leadership conventions be held every two years….however, the past core leadership chose to suspend the constitution ever since they were “selected” in 2011…arguing for four years that conventions were too costly and too divisive, and that elections would be called any moment. Many believe that this did not allow winnable candidates to be chosen by the constituencies, with the core leadership choosing by appointment mostly persons loyal to them…in the process alienating many hard core supporters of the party….leading to 6 electoral defeats in a row.
Yesterday, the party held its first leadership convention in four years. Why and who called for this convention to be held so quickly after the recent defeat is obscure to most….but this is strategic politics, and someone’s strategy is being played out. However….no one owns the field of politics in a democracy.
Hon. John Briceno won over Hon. Francis Fonseca and Hon. Cordel Hyde, and becomes the new Party Leader.
Several things seemed to have weighed in on this convention result:
Briceno conducted a more energetic national campaign, visiting all delegates in every electoral division….used all forms of media…and seemed to have allocated a budget substantially larger than the other two candidates. He apparently wanted to win more than the others.
A break in the Musa-Usher/Zabaneh camp weakened Fonseca’s chances….one son went for Fonseca, the other for Briceno. This also broke up the southern caucus, which in the past usually would have stood together. This puts Henry Charles Usher, who now becomes Party Chairman, squarely into the king-maker position.
Hon. Julius Espat and Hon. Kareem Musa carved out their spots as Deputy Leader for the west, without being contested in this convention…which suggests they have inside track and negotiating skill…but raises questions about their democratic principles. Players put in their candidacy for leadership, but withdrew when Fonseca agreed to run again for leader…which suggests there are strategic cards that are better held closer to the chest than others, in the poker strategy being played out. Important posts, such a national campaign manager, legal advisor and treasurer are held by persons known to have been loyal to the Fonseca bid. It is left to be seen if these positions will hold.
There was widespread belief that the convention delegates were being handpicked in a way that heavily favored the incumbent Fonseca….which would suggest that Briceno’s campaigning directly with the delegates paid dividends, as many of them unexpectedly lent him their favor at the final hour.
Hon. Cordel Hyde took 25% of the votes cast for party leader, which gives him a strong negotiating hand in any new core power in the party. The votes he took could have changed Briceno’s fortune….he is king-maker #2.
The party will have to hold another leadership convention in two years time, so the new leader will be challenged again at that point. By that time it will become more obvious whose strategy is being played….and whether that strategy works or not. The UDP will have to outspend the PUP 5:1 to win the next general election….which is a feat highly unlikely to be achieved.
Unity is strength….and the PUP need ALL the numbers to change their fortunes….they have a lot of work to do together, especially gathering up all the prodigal sons and lost sheep…which will be the most important component of any winning strategy for the next general elections in 2018.
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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