By Wellington C. Ramos
Belize held their municipal election on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. When all the votes were counted, the People’s United Party (PUP) won a landslide by winning 65 out of 67 seats and winning all the mayoral seats except in the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio, where incumbent UDP Mayor Earl Trapp was reelected along with one of his councillor candidates.
The PUP candidate in Corozal Bay, Elvia Vega- Samos also won the by-election to replace her brother David Vega in the House of Representatives, who died shortly after he was elected last year. It has been many years since the PUP staged a comeback against the UDP, who have been controlling all the municipalities for more than 12 years up until 2018 when PUP was able to win Belize City and Corozal.
The Belize People’s Front contested the Dangriga Town Board constituency for the first time in their party’s history. Their candidates were able to garner over 1,000 votes out of all the votes that were cast in the election. One of their councillor candidate Dwayne Sampson, received the most votes nationwide out of all the third party candidates that contested the election. In Punta Gorda Town, the Belize Progressive Party (BPP) Mayoral candidate and some of his Councillor candidates, received more votes than some of the UDP candidates. That was a major surprise. Normally in most Belizean elections, the third-party candidates do not get more votes than the candidates for the two major political parties PUP and UDP.
Voter turnout was low and it was not until later that day, that people started to rush to the polls. Belizeans just recently voted in a general election in November last year 2020. The political parties were wondering if there was voter fatigue. Belizeans traditionally vote for the same party that occupies the seat of the National Assembly in Belmopan. They feel that if they vote for the party that does not control the central government, their city or town will not get money from the government to take care of their business. However, this is far from the truth because history has shown that due to the limited subvention, the central government has been issuing to the cities and towns over the years, but their expenditures far outweigh their revenues. The cities and towns need more autonomy to generate revenue to keep up with their monthly budgets.
Belize like every country in the world is experiencing a serious economic problem, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and especially in the tourism industry where 30 percent of their nation’s revenues come from. This revenue also is the main source of foreign currency, from American tourists who visit Belize regularly. In the absence of this revenue, the only other source is the remittances sent by Belizean American citizens who live in the United States. Many Belizean Americans are experiencing their own problems in America and are not able to send money to their relatives like they normally would. Belizeans and other people living in America have lost their jobs and have problems getting their unemployment money because the offices in most US States, are not functioning at 100 percent capacity.
After the municipal elections were held, the Belize government announced that they will have to sign an agreement to abide by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) guidelines. This was something they knew before the elections were held, but kept it away from the citizens.
IMF guidelines will lead to a freeze in government spending, salary cuts, layoffs, reduced spending and other actions that will affect the people and government.
The Belize government will have to agree with the IMF due to their debt to revenue ratio. Belize debt is estimated at about $4 billion Belize dollars and growing. If they cannot generate more revenues and payoff their debts it will get worst and not better. Next year, the village council elections are due and the political parties will have to find funds for this election also. Elections in Belize without money, result in a party losing the elections because the two major parties have seemingly been paying their citizens to vote for them over the years.
Some of the Belizean citizens have gotten used to this practice and will not vote for any party or candidate unless they are paid. If the political parties do not come together and deal with this problem, they will not be able to afford the cost of the elections and to end vote-buying and corruption in Belize.
Electoral reforms and campaign finance legislations are the only two ways to solve this problem. Severe legal penalties including fines, imprisonment for citizens buying and selling votes and the recall of candidates who won an election by engaging in these illegal activities must be included in these legislations.
The problem is that after the elections are held, many of the Representatives are not seen until elections are held again. Then, a majority of the Belizean people the working class and poor continue to live in poverty. Meanwhile, some families in Belize, politicians, their supporters, businesses people and the major political parties multinational donors reap the benefits from Belize’s natural resources.