Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2023. 8:49 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Two-and-a-half months after it was first laid on the table in the National Assembly, there is still wrangling over the decisions made by the task force assembled to survey Belize’s electoral boundaries and their report to the Election and Boundaries Commission.
Minister of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform and Religious Affairs Henry Charles Usher told reporters last week that the task force members led by Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai did not have several key pieces of information, including the results of the delayed national census which are to be released in preliminary format on October 13 by the Statistical Institute of Belize (SIB) and legal opinion on whether electoral seats can be dissolved. (The Constitution does not set an upper limit for the number of seats in the House of Representatives, but does state that it cannot be fewer than 28.)
The Belize PEACE Movement, some of whose members initiated the redistricting case that led to the process commencing last February, has issued a statement correcting the “gross misrepresentation” it says Usher made of Section 90 of the Constitution.
According to Usher, “The law, Section 90 I believe of the Constitution, says very clearly that they are to look at the total population. It does not say voting population.”
But the BPM quotes Section 90 as reading, “The Elections and Boundaries Commission shall, after considering the electoral distribution of the population throughout Belize, make proposals from time to time for dividing Belize into electoral divisions in such a way that, . . .” (Emphasis ours).
In the BPM’s estimation, the phrase ‘electoral distribution’ refers to eligible voters on the roll as opposed to the population figures counted in the census which includes those who cannot vote, generally those below the age of 18 and who are not citizens, naturalized Belizeans or otherwise.
The BPM maintains its position that the proposal before the House “does not comply with Section 90 (1) (a) of the Belize Constitution in that the deviation threshold applied (25% to 35%) is arbitrary and inadequate for achieving the long-established relative spread among divisions as documented in Section 90 (1) (a) of the 1981 Belize Constitution,” and further that “The threshold applied (25% to 35%) is far less a democratic standard than the (10% – 15%) recommended by the court expert.”
The BPM has reserved its options to return the case to the High Court.
Meanwhile, Usher noted that there is no precedent for removing an electoral seat entirely, as the proposal proposes to do with at least two seats: Port Loyola and Queen’s Square in Belize City. At most, boundaries have been redrawn and stations moved between divisions, but some question whether the Commission even has the right to remove a seat from the list of constituencies. The proposal more or less maintains the number of constituencies at 31 but with some wide spreads in population including for Ambergris Caye.
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