Posted:Friday, February 2, 2018. 10:00 a.m. CST.
By Richard Harrison: Municipal elections are held every three years in the 9 principal cities and towns of Belize….the last one was held on March 4, 2015 and the upcoming one will be held on March 7, 2018.
The total voter turnout for the last elections was 57%, with 60,533 of the total 105,634 registered voters casting their ballots.
In the 2015 elections, the ruling UDP (reds) won 8 of the 9 municipalities by relatively wide margins…and the PUP (blues) won the mayorship of Orange Walk town by a slim 64 votes.
Very high political capital is at stake in these elections….because the results will determine to great extent the momentum going forward to the next general elections for central government, which can be called at any time before early 2021, with only 30 days notice required by law. If the UDP loses ground in these elections, they will likely ride out their full term….while if they win hands ūdown again, they will likely spring a sudden general elections later this year or early next year.
These elections can also influence the leadership of both the reds and the blues….because the gains and losses will show voters whether their current leadership in the case of the blues, or leadership-in-waiting in the case of the reds, has the ability to lead them to general elections victory….which is ultimately the end game in our winner-takes-all parliamentary model.
This time around the opposition PUP has a lot more in its favour….it seems to be spending a lot more money….matching the UDP in street color and “campaigners” muscle…and they also have in their favor the fact that the UDP has been in power since 2008…carrying a lot more baggage from internal political struggles for leadership to take over from Prime Minister Barrow, given that he has announced that he will retire from electoral politics before the next general elections. The recent disclosure of massive corruption in the UDP government, the disappointment of the electorate with the UDP handling of Belizean sovereignty and integrity in the face of increased pressure on the borders from Guatemala, the general slowdown in the economy amid rising cost of living and stagnated incomes, and the rapidly increasing rate of violent crimes and feeling of insecurity by the general population….all these play into the hands of the PUP.
However, the UDP still has some political considerations in its favor….their electoral machinery is well oiled and they are very astute at getting their voters to the polls, using every trick in the book, including populating and repopulating the electoral areas with the number of votes for victory, using an enhanced version of the same old rigged voters list…they have made big strides in improving streets and playgrounds in all the municipalities, never before witnessed by Belizean voters, albeit financed by massive borrowing, and unevenly distributed across the municipalities….they still effectively use the sins of the last PUP government against them, especially since voters perceive this PUP to be very much the same as the past, even if some of the principal operatives now operate out of the limelight….they have a lot of gifts and favors that they have doled out mostly to reds, but also to many blues that frolic with them….and of course they have a lot of decentralized money available in their constituencies, regardless of how they came by such wealth, and which the blues does not have.
If past trends are still relevant…..and they are….the direction that Belize City takes generally is the direction that the rest of the municipalities take.
In the 2015 elections, the reds won the Belize City mayorship overwhelmingly by 5355 votes, with a voter turnout of 48%. While the PUP seems to have a better slate and are spending more, this margin is very difficult to overcome. Belize City turnout would have to increase to around 65% of registered voters…and the PUP needs to mobilize a lot more of its traditional support, if any upset is to be expected.
While the mayorship of Orange Walk was won the last time by the blues by only 64 votes, the mayor of that town seems to have grown in popularity, because in some way he has managed to make great infrastructure improvements in the town, even though in opposition. Even the outgoing UDP mayor of Belize City, Mayor Darrel Bradley, has publicly paid him his respect. He can be expected to lead the blues to victory there once again.
In the last municipals, the UDP won the mayorship in San Pedro by 655 votes….Benque by 767 votes….Dangriga by 575 votes….Punta Gorda by 611 votes…Corozal by 300 votes…Belmopan by 1496 votes….and San Ignacio by 1911 votes.
If infrastructure spending is what will be the principal driver of voters decision in these elections…it appears that Belize City, San Ignacio, Belmopan and San Pedro benefited the most from government projects…while Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Corozal and Benque benefited the least. It is noteworthy that the Santa Elena portion of the San Ignacio/Santa Elena township benefited much less than the San Ignacio portion, and this can have some effect on the general outcome, since that portion of the town is now very significant.
The PUP general strategy in the public media campaign has been to attack the UDP central governments corruption scandals and their now infamous corruption posterboys…not necessarily promoting their many first-time political aspirants….nor their manifesto…..their “Change is Coming” anthem has been met with mixed reviews….and as one commenter remarked “Change is Coming. Monkey fi black dawg?”. They have not done anything to close ranks with their many traditional supporters that have been kicked to the curb over the years of their losing streak from 2003 to current….behaving as if they can win regardless, due to their perception of mass discontent among voters in general….but the PUP only wins elections when they get the vast majority of their traditional supporters to go to the polls for them. Given that the PUP has chosen to postpone their national convention to elect party leaders twice now, to beyond these municipal elections…another 8:1 victory for the UDP could also mean a change of leadership for the PUP whenever their national convention is held…which has to be not long after this elections.
The UDP is behaving very arrogant in this campaign….with the Prime Minister and other big guns in the UDP party playing low key….not hitting the streets the way they have in past elections….as if over-confident in another victory. Over-confidence in any battle can be a spanner in the wheel. Their public media campaign is making full use of their so-called “infrastructure revolution”….their manifesto for continued development….and attacking past PUP sins, which continues to be very effective for them long after the fact. They are also pushing potential political bombshells, such as the UHS/Ashcroft/CCJ battle, beyond the date of these elections.
If voter turnout falls significantly below the levels of the last municipal elections, it could mean that the voters….especially unions and associations of workers and businesspeople…are looking towards a new leadership for Belize, other than the two principal contenders….and would signal that they would be more ready to make big shifts in their voting patterns in the next general elections, improving the outlook for a middle-of-the-road coalition to take root and bloom rapidly.
In summary…it appears that the 8:1 victory for the UDP can be sustained in these elections, perhaps with smaller margins….however, if voter turnout improves in favor of the blues, and against the reds; there can be upsets in any or all of the towns of Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Corozal and Benque. The movement of the votes that the independents got in the last municipals towards the blue could enhance the PUP chances in this respect, especially in Punta Gorda and San Pedro.
Finally….the Father of the Nation, Honorable George C. Price used to repeat very often, that elections are won on election day…and thus the manpower and strategic brain muscle with which the two major political parties approach this election day will be all important.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
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