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House to finally debate redistricting as PEACE Movement calls on Governor-General to intervene against early election

Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2024. 9:02 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: One of the four bills listed on the Orders of the Day for next week’s meeting of the House of Representatives in Belmopan is, as listed in its long title, “Bill for an Act to amend the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 9 of the Substantive Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2020; to give effect to the Redivision Report of the Elections and Boundaries Commission by varying boundaries and removing and creating electoral divisions in Schedule I of the Act; and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

The Report referred to in the Bill has attracted opprobrium all around and is currently the subject of an application in the High Court to order the Elections and Boundaries Commission to expedite the redistricting exercise, and strike out the current First Schedule to the Representation of the People Act, which lists the divisions in which a general election can be called.

The Belize PEACE Movement contends that both the current Schedule and that proposed by the Report are badly malapportioned and do not meet the Constitutional requirement that each division have as near as possible an equal amount of voters – no fewer than 28, but no upper limit.

While the decision of High Court Justice Nadine Nabie may be expected in another month, the PEACE Movement is not waiting for that. Today, it wrote to Governor-General Dame Froyla Tzalam, arguing that if the current government repeats the previous government’s decision to hold elections without a redistricting exercise, she has the power to stop them under Section 84(4) of the Constitution: “If the Prime Minister advises a dissolution and the Governor-General, acting in his own deliberate judgment, considers that the Government of Belize can be carried on without a dissolution and that a dissolution would not be in the interests of deliberate judgment, refuse to dissolve the National Assembly.”

According to BPM leader Robert “Bobby” Lopez, speaking to Channel 5 News, “We have also been considering what other safeguards we can have in place, and one that we have been looking at for some time is the office of the Governor General that constitutionally, she does have certain powers, certain responsibilities with regards to safeguarding our democracy and how we are governed. And so, we decided to also send her a letter and apprise her of what is happening currently with the case of redivisioning in the court and also just requesting that should the Prime Minister decide to call early elections and redistricting has not been done to the satisfaction of our Constitution she has the power to say not quite yet, Mr. Prime Minister, this needs to be taken care of first, so that it ensures that we have free and fair elections. So that’s a constitutional responsibility that the Governor General holds. And that’s why we quoted it in the letter to her.”

Meanwhile, BPM attorney Arthur Saldivar cautiously welcomed the news from Parliament: “I am thankful that the parliamentarians, the sitting administration has seen it fit to move this along. It is an important step and we look forward to hearing the results of the debate. We want to have free and fair elections in Belize and it gives me hope to be able to appreciate that the parliament is now taking on the mantle and advancing this. There is hope for Belize.” He added that he would not anticipate how the debate in the National Assembly would turn out, preferring to put his faith in the courts.

 

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