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Belize Will Have a New Prime Minister in Two Weeks: 6 Interesting Facts about Elections in Belize

As you step foot pretty much anywhere on Ambergris Caye, you’ll notice a change.  FLAGS ARE EVERYWHERE! Election Flags

On utility poles, fluttering from home and golf carts, you can’t look anywhere without seeing a political flag.

Belize’s General Election has been announced for November 11th.  The election was announced just a few weeks ago – allowing the required minimum of One Month for campaigning.

There are two main political parties in Belize – the United Democratic Party or the UDP, the red party – and Peoples’ United Party or the PUP, the blue party.

This election will decide the Prime Minister of Belize – but not directly.  Our current Prime Minister – Dean Barrow of the UDP – is completing his third (and final as mandated by the constitution) term as PM.

Though it is the National Election, Prime Ministerial candidates are not on the ballot.  The citizens of Belize are choosing the 31 members of the Belize House of Representatives.

The party with the majority of the House – their party leader is the next Prime Minister.  A parliamentary democracy – the only one in Central America.  (An interesting map of the world’s systems of government – from Absolute Monarchies to Presidential Republics…not a “true democracy” in sight)

The Party Leaders, the potential next Prime Minister of Belize:  Johnny Briceno for the PUP (who has quite a long career in the upper levels of politics as both the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition Party) and Patrick Faber, one of the youngest members of the House and the current MInister of Education)

You can read a bit more – and see the 31 constituencies here –   they are broken down in a way to give each vote a fair and equal weight.

As it stands now, pre-election, the UDP (the United Democratic Party, the incumbents, The Red) hold 19 House seats and the PUP, 12, The Blue.

In San Pedro – or part of the Belize Rural South district (a very confusing name since we seem neither rural nor south) – the race is between Manuel Heredia (who is the Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation) and incumbent since 2003 and Andre Perez.  (Here are old links for both of them from the late 90s/early 00s San Pedro Sun – it gives their pre-politics backgrounds..where they were born, their first jobs, etc. Some of the things I love to know. Andre Perez and Manuel Heredia)

This year is more muted…obviously. There are flags and banners, party-themed face masks are big but not as much rallying and parading, no partying – usually, there is live music and/or fireworks.  Rallies with “dollar beers” are also big.  But not this year. Social distancing is the law…groups are restricted to 10 people or less.

But there are plenty of flags.  And t-shirts and, of course, masks.

Elections Face Masks

UDP and PUP.  * Please don’t fault the gentleman in the PUP mask for an uncovered nose – he was walking down the street and I asked him if I could take a picture of his mask.  He reached to take it off for me…and…that’s why it is slightly askew.  My fault.

The Opposition party is PUP – People’s United Party.

pup_flag

The party in power is the: United Democratic Party.  The 6 dots stand for the 6 districts of Belize:  Orange Walk, Corozal, Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, Toledo.

udp

Love the UDP song!  I’ll be singing it all day…honesty…integrity…

There’s even a Spanish version!

I have witnessed a few Belizean elections in my 10+ years as a resident and many more in the USA…and while each is exciting for various reasons…

In the US, voting is a relatively solemn affair.  Campaigning is not allowed within a certain distance of the polling station.  On election day, most of the action and results are viewed on TV often in the evening into the later night.  With this election, maybe for days or weeks.

Here in Belize, rallying, campaigning, parading…they all take place around the polling station (usually only the High School in San Pedro) – it’s actually a pretty exciting day.   When you go to vote, it’s like you are walking into a festival area.

This year should be less festive – for good reason. Due to the COVID-19 related restrictions, there will be 2 polling stations – the San Pedro High School and the SP Roman Catholic School.  There is also a CURFEW in place – 8pm.  So that when the election is announced, there will be no parades and/or celebrating and rallying in the streets.

 

Here are some interesting things to me about elections in my beloved Belize.

  1.  In almost all areas, you vote by inking your finger and voting with your fingerprint.   It is a 100% in-person, one-day only affair.
  • The process is:
    – enter voting room. give your id card for your name to be called and found on their list that you are to vote in that area.
    – once verified, then go to the next person who will ask you to dip your right index finger up to the first joint into the ink
    – once done, you then get your ballot paper
    – that paper has the signature of the one supervising the voting.
    – so you go, then put your “X” with the pencil next to the name.
    – fold the paper with the signature of the one that provided it showing.
    – show them that it is folded and the signature is visible, then put in ballot box.
purple finger
Photo by JC Cuellar

I wonder if the purple is a mix of the two parties’ colors.

2.  Last minute influence is a big part of it.  The parties set up booths, flags, snacks, organizers, influencers, blasting music as close to the polling area as they can.  (Again, this year, this is mandated to be very limited.)

In San Pedro, it all happens at the High School.  They even set up giant ballots to make sure you KNOW who they want you to vote for.

Photo below from the local elections – for town council – in 2018.

3.  Like the British system, the National elections must be called and can be held at any time of year.  Town and city elections are scheduled for the first Wed in March of every third year (2021 is our next local election)

National Elections – the National Assembly is dissolved under the advice of the Prime Minister and elections must take place within 3 months (a minimum of one month).  So elections can be any time of the year.

The timing is carefully strategized.  Does the other party seem disorganized?  Has there just been a huge scandal on their side?  Has your party done something popular?  Might be a good time to call elections.

4.  The winner is in and the loser is out.  Immediately.  Unlike the US system where there is a pass-over/transition period (peaceful we hope) – in Belize, the winner is in the next day.  And the parading ensues (in “normal” years)

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5.  To vote, you must be a citizen of Belize but…  For an American in Belize – that requires 5 years living in the country – and then you can apply for your dual citizenship.  BUT if you are a resident of a commonwealth country (from Canada to South Africa to Ghana to India) and residing in Belize for 12 months or more, you can register to vote.

6.  Election Day is a national holiday.  And there is no alcohol served or sold this day.    At least until the votes are counted.  Did you know that two US states still ban alcohol sales on Election Day?()

There are no firearms allowed at polling stations – which should be obvious in my book – but apparently, it’s not a given.  (Oh Michigan)

Also this year and NOT WITHOUT CONTROVERSY:  Those with COVID-19 are not allowed to vote.

In normal years – alcohol sales can resume after the votes have been counted – but this year, the 8pm curfew is in place.
IMG_4599

So there it is…a mix of what usually happens and what might happen in this pandemic year.  November 12th, Belize will have a new Prime Minister.






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7 thoughts on “Belize Will Have a New Prime Minister in Two Weeks: 6 Interesting Facts about Elections in Belize

  1. Billizer

    Election Day is a Nervous Day. The Seventh Rule should be: If you do not vote…Don’t complain. I am an exception to the seventh rule!!

  2. peterbj7

    I voted last time, but I don’t remember who I voted for. This time I can’t distinguish between the parties and along with very many Belizeans I am not voting at all.

  3. FJL

    What, no hack-able electronic voting machines? Shocking! On my stay there 10 days ago I had a chance to walk with 3 smart young ladies with party t-shirts and a banner. We talked about politics and I asked if the environment was a big issue with their party. Glad to know I think they are on the right side and I’m sure we’ll be kept up to date on this blog.

Comments are closed.