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PEACE Movement refutes redistricting claims “in defense of the Belize Constitution”

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2022. 5:22 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: As the exercise gathers apace, Minister of Constitutional and Political Reform Henry Charles Usher recently discussed redistricting of electoral divisions.

He told reporters on Friday, March 18, responding to a question whether the number of seats would change, that “The Constitution says that there must be effective representation; it does not say equal representation. Now effective representation has been defined throughout other jurisdictions. They have had redistricting exercises and court cases in other countries and judges have pronounced on what it means by effective representation. And certainly, you have to look at different factors when it comes to the meaning of the word effective, including population, including transportation, including geography. So there are different factors that are put into place, but what is important is that the constituencies are so made up that each constituency, the persons in those constituencies receive effective representation.” (Emphasis ours)

The Belize PEACE Movement, which carries on its case concerning the redistricting process, has hit back, reporting that the phrase effective representation appears nowhere within the Constitution (or the Representation of the People Act which directly concerns conduct of elections); that the Constitution in Section 90(1)(a) does state, “each electoral division shall have as nearly as may be an equal number of persons eligible to vote;” and that its case before the court aims to compel Government to maintain that near-equality.

As to what the Constitution says, Sections 88 to 92 cover the creation and function of the Elections and Boundaries Commission and process of creating and maintaining electoral divisions. Broadly speaking, the number of divisions by law is set at 31 per section 89, and one member is elected in each division; the Commission is empowered under Section 90 to propose redivision in such a way that there shall never be less than 28 divisions and that they are nearly as equal in size of voting population, and that in doing so, the Commission shall have regard to the transport and other facilities of the division, and to its physical features.

The concept of effective representation, as defined by the ACE Electoral Project Encyclopedia, covers three functions: 1) geographical – seats in parliament reflect the geographic distribution of the country and members are ultimately accountable to their area; 2) functional – the parliament is to broadly represent the political situation of the country, both established parties and independents and ideological divisions; and 3) descriptive – to mirror the nation and reflect the population as a whole, whether men or women, old or young, wealthy, poor, religious, ethnic and other communities.

As an example, the Minister pointed to suggestions that his division, Fort George, currently the smallest in terms of voting population, may absorb voters from Caye Caulker and St. George’s Caye, roughly 15 to 20 miles in distance from the eastern point of the division within the Tourism Village: “We have to see what is coming out of the task force before we make a decision in that regard. Certainly, I would welcome Caye Caulker and Saint George’s Caye. The people out there have been represented well by the Honorable Andre Perez, but Belize Rural South is a growing constituency. San Pedro itself has around nine thousand voters so it is a very big constituency just on Ambergris Caye. So definitely we are going to have to look at ways in which we can perhaps, you know, divide the Belize Rural South to make sure that, again, you have effective representation.”

A sort of mid-year report will be made public in July or August and the results of the entire exercise will be laid before the National Assembly in 2023.

 

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