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Review of Municipal Elections in Post-Independent Belize

Review of Municipal Elections in Post-Independent Belize

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A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

A Review of Municipal Elections In Post-independent Belize

© 2009 by I. Myrtle Palacio
All rights reserved First draft shared on-line April 2009


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


Objective and Scope
Unlike other social sciences, such as economics and anthropology, scientific quantification, qualification and analysis of voter behaviour and political culture, are still left to gut feelings in Belize (Palacio, 1993). However the study of politics is as important to our daily existence as the other sciences. Two endeavours at investigating Municipal Elections have been published to date, namely, “Selecting Our Leaders Past and Present” (Palacio, 1999), and “Belize City Council Elections: Who is Participating” (SPEAReports 7: Palacio, 1991). The former, was limited to listing all Town Board Councilors elected from 1963 to 1997. Similarly, the latter was restricted to investigating one Belize City Council Election only. This present study is a first attempt at examining the results of all Municipal Elections for both Towns and Cities. Its purposes are both exploratory and descriptive. It is exploratory as it continues to reveal new concepts in Belize’s political ethos, and extends into trends in political party performance and voter turnout at the polls. The study is descriptive because the statistics itself when displayed illustrate and narrate the outcomes. This study offers an evocative review of Municipal Elections, concentrating on the election held on March 4, 2009, and focusing on several variables, such as leadership, women’s participation and voter turnout.


The investigation compares past Municipal Elections, and all data are triangulated to ensure accuracy and integrity of the information presented. 1954 saw the first General Election after adult suffrage, and thirty years later in 1984, established the trend for wide shifts in voter-preference as exercised through the vote. The main thrust is the analysis of data from all Municipal Elections under the new Belize City and Town Councils Acts. Commencing with the Belize City Municipal Election of 1999, the Acts empowered the Elector to vote for Mayors in the Municipal Elections. Other elections are highlighted for emphasis, but concentration is on Municipal Elections, with particular attention to the Municipal Elections held on March 4, 2009. The study acknowledges the increase in the number of “Third” political parties competing in Belize’s elections. It also recognizes the two major political parties, namely the Peoples United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP), as the two Parties that have consistently contested the elections in post-independent Belize. Variables such as voter participation and political party popularity in General Elections are not compared with that of Municipal Elections for the basic reason that the source, the databases, or the universe are not the same in most cases. However, several references are made to General Elections in determining its effect on the outcome of Municipal Elections and vice versa. For purposes of this study, national averages for Municipal Elections are not recognized before 2003, as these were administered as separate elections and held at differing times. Prior to 2003, a national average will be in reference to Town Board Elections only. Raw data are collected, then collated, calculated and analyzed to produce readily readable information. If the data provided are not accurate, the information produced will not be valid or reliable. Limitations in the availability and quality of data sources for election results have been encountered over the years (Palacio, 1991, 1993, 1999). 42 In such

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

instances, efforts in obtaining multiple data sources are employed, and the data triangulated to ensure accuracy of information. The data downloaded for the 2009 Municipal Elections from the official website www.elections.gov.bz between March 5 and March 25, 2009, were no different, and some of the most blatant were the following (Appendix i):    Late official postings of election results Updating modifications without notification for clarity Inaccurate calculations of voter turnout

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Wherever inaccuracies are discovered, the differences have always been elucidated, but only the official results are utilized (Palacio, 1991, 1993, 1999). The approach in this study is similar. The information in this research, contributes to Urban Studies as the findings can be used to influence urban policy, community development and citizen participation. It also contributes to the field of Urban Anthropology in the areas of social planning and ethnicization of politics. Two new perspectives in Belize’s political culture have emerged, that of ethnic voting or voting as an ethnic block, coined as “ethnicization of politics”; the use of inaccurate and/or incomplete data on election outcomes to spin viewpoints; and the non-participation of electors by not voting. All these warrant further research with regards to its effect on Belize’s political development.

Research Methodology
A mix of methods and techniques were utilized to acquire superior quality data, resulting in valid and reliable information. technique was utilized by:   perusing newspapers carrying election results for periods quoted gleaning election results statistics from the Belize Gazettes for periods quoted 43 In the secondary research method, the library review

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
  conducting literature review as listed in the bibliography searching the world wide web on-line news reporting of the 2009 election results All the election statistics were quantified to determine voter turnout, political party popularity, candidate popularity and trends in voter behaviour. Utilizing primary research methodology, qualitative research strategies were employed to attain a better advantage in interpreting meanings in people’s stories, such as but not limited to, Talk Shows, political advertisements, presentation and content of news items. Data collection techniques utilized included, participant observation as a voter on election day; in-depth inquiries of electors and politicians via face-to-face and telephone dialogues, as well as environmental scans surrounding the Polling Stations in Belize City on Election Day. News items were coded and analyzed using techniques of content and narrative analyses. As an Elector with experience in election data analysis in Belize, I am the situated knower or the outsider within, and I utilized this opportunity as a participant observer to draw better insight into the value climate. This is a technique of feminist standpoint theory and indigenous anthropology (Hill, 1990; Bernard H. Russell, 1994).

The following definitions of terms or concepts used in the paper are offered below for purposes of clarity.

The Representation of the People Act (ROPA) chapter 9 of the laws of Belize provides the regulations for voter registration and conduct of elections. follows. 44 The Third Section, under Election Rules, is quoted for the definitions offered on spoilt and rejected ballots, as

Spoilt Ballot--Rejected Ballot—Ballots Cast

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
A spoilt ballot is a cancelled ballot. The cancellation is done in the Polling Station by the Presiding Officer on the request of an Elector. A “spoilt ballot” is not placed or “cast” into the ballot box, and is therefore not a “cast ballot” or vote (Rule 26). A rejected ballot is a “cast ballot” or vote that has been deemed void by the Returning Officer in the Counting Station. A rejected ballot is not part of the votes counted for a candidate (Rule 31). The ROPA offers 5 reasons to reject a cast ballot as follows (Rule 31 (1)): “Any ballot paper-     which does not have the Presiding Officer’s initials on the back of it; or in which the elector has voted for more than one candidate; or which is not marked for any candidate; or which contains any writing or by which the elector could be identified; or which is unmarked or void for uncertainty;”

In Municipal Elections, the number of “ballots cast” represents the number of Electors who voted. Each Elector who participates has the choice of voting for 0 to 11 persons in Belize City, or 0 to 7 persons in Belmopan City or each of the other seven municipalities. Voter turnout then is the result of the total number of “ballots cast” divided by the total number of registered Electors. One “ballot cast” represents one Voter, but as expressed above, one “cast ballot” may have several votes. A Presiding Officer has the responsibility to manage a Polling Station on Election Day and a Returning Officer manages the election for the entire municipality if it is a Municipal Election, or electoral division if a Parliamentary Election.

The expressions “Good Governance” and “Corruption” were touted by the Media, Politicians and others throughout the 2008 election campaign, and it is a topic of interest in this study. For purposes of this research corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain or for the benefit of a group to which one owes allegiance. To govern simply 45

Good governance

means to manage, control, or steer the affairs of People. Governance is the exercise of power or authority to manage a country’s resources and affairs. Good governance comprises the mechanisms, processes and institutions, through which people and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences. For a government it is the “traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised” including, “the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced (AusAID1, 2005). Taken from the definition offered by the Government of Belize through the Office of Governance (OoG), Governance is defined as “the competent management of resources and business in a manner that is transparent, accountable and responsive” (OoG Annual Report 2007). Good governance minimizes corruption and can only be accomplished through the practice of several principles, characteristics or qualities, with examples below as presented in the literature: Accountability Responsiveness Accuracy Transparency/Openness Participation Integrity Decency Inclusiveness Fairness Rule of Law Effectiveness & Efficiency

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

All organizations working for the common GOOD of the Public are responsible to practice good governance principles as listed above, and these organizations are divided into three main categories as follows: • • • Public Sector, such as Government and Quasi-government organizations Social Sector, namely NGOs, Media, Unions, Churches, Lodges Private Sector Organizations, such as those with public ownership through shares. One example in Belize is the Credit Unions.


AusAID Projects, “Good Governance: Guiding Principles for Implementation” (www.ausaid.gov.au)


Organizations that Impact Electioneering

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

The definition of good governance offered by AusAID2 in 2005 abovementioned speaks to traditions and institutions by which authority is exercised in a country and includes the institutions that hold responsibilities for the mechanisms and processes, by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced. Three institutions stand out as having immense significance to the mechanisms and processes for selection, monitoring and replacement of governments. Therefore these are organizations that should be cognizant of practicing good governance principles as identified above. Firstly, an Election Management Body (EMB) is to ensure that voter registration is conducted as mandated by the ROPA; and that an accurate, reliable electoral database is maintained. The EMB is also mandated to ensure that free and fair elections are efficiently organized and conducted, with accurate results reported in a timely and transparent manner. In Belize, the EMB with such a mandate is the Elections and Boundaries Department (Department) which is a government agency that was created in 1989 immediately following amendments to Sec 88 of the Constitution of Belize in 1988. The irony is that at that time there existed an independent body called the Elections and Boundaries Commission (Commission), and by so doing established a second EMB whose staff persons are appointed by the Public Services Commission. As a creature of Section 88 of the Belize Constitution, the 1988 amendments derogated the Commission’s role and capacity with regards to electoral administration as set out in Sec 88 (13). The Commission’s role in electoral administration as determined by Section 88 (14) is subject to the ROPA and states, “In the exercise of its functions, the Commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority and shall, subject to the provisions of this

AusAID is acronym for Australian Agency for International Development. It is the Government agency responsible for managing Australia’s overseas aid programmes (www.ausaid.gov.au)


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Constitution, act in accordance with the Representation of the People Act or any other law, rule or regulation relating to elections.”

The expression “shall” in Section 88 (14) as underlined for emphasis in the quotation above speaks volumes. With subsequent amendments to the Administrative Provisions and other sections of the ROPA, responsibility for electoral administration was devolved to some extent on the Chief Elections Officer and by extension on the Public Services Commission. With one stroke of the pen in 1988, Belize changed from an Independent Model of election management to a Government Model (Palacio, 2005). To reiterate, for purposes of this study supported by the explanations above, the EMB in Belize is the Department (see Section One). The second institution that holds responsibilities for the mechanisms and processes, by which
governments are selected, monitored and replaced is the political party (Party). Traditionally in

Belize, the political party as an organization is responsible for selecting or electing persons as standard bearers or candidates to represent the Party on the election ballot. Whether or how the Party performs due diligence in its selection processes for values such as integrity, and the necessary skills to carry out the responsibilities of the Office Sought, is purely party political business. Most Electors are not members of political parties, and the trend is that only small3 groups of approximately 10% to 12% for each major political party are party devotees who invariably select or elect candidates for the ballot (Palacio, 1993). Therefore, the choice of candidate for the ballot is dictated by a small group through a political party convention; and the majority of Electors are left to conclude the vote based on the Parties’ choices. Candidates are elected as leaders to determine the progress of the municipality and/or country. This task by political parties of finding candidates for the ballot is very

This trend may be changing as larger numbers are turning out to vote for both major political parties in a few of the recent conventions.


crucial to democracy. However, to date, there is no legal framework to regulate the political parties that are charged with such a strategic role. While the two major Parties have been in the business of politics for all the elections in post-independent Belize, there has been an increase of new entrants namely, “Third Party” participation in the political arena to challenge elections only. Thirdly are the Media who are institutions now considered to be an indispensable element in a democracy, and have been described as the “fourth estate” or fourth power of the state. As such, the Media are expected to carry out the crucial role of facilitating public inquiry, by offering voice to a diversity of views and opinions. The Media are expected to provide valid, accurate, and reliable information to the public, so people may understand issues and critically assess government’s actions or inactions. In so doing the Media also promote public debate on issues of public concern. Therefore, the Media are valuable and effective agents of change that work for the common good, and must set and maintain the highest standards of transparency and integrity of information.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


Trends in Voter Participation
Separate Elections—Town & City
Until 2000 all Elections in Belize were conducted at separate time periods. All Municipal and General Elections were treated as separate and distinct from each other in terms of the election dates. For example in the ‘80’s Belize City Council Election was held in September 1983, the General Elections in December 1984, followed by the Town Board Elections in March 1985. Similarly, in the ‘90’s, General Election was held in June 1993, Town Board Elections were held in March 1994, and the Belize City Council Elections in March 1996 (Table 1). The first two Municipal Elections in one day were held in March 2000 under the new Belmopan City Council and Town Councils Acts, following the March 1999 Belize City Council Election. It was the first City Council Election for Belmopan after the Referendum of November 1999 which asked the question: “Should we in Belmopan have our own elected City Council?” The new Village, City and Town Councils Acts reformed the local government system by providing for the election of Mayors and Village Chairmen, setting a specific time for elections, and the devolution of powers to the Councils. In Belize City, Electors voted for a Mayor for the first time in 1999, and 50

Belmopan Voters along with Voters of all seven Towns also voted for a Mayor for the first time in 2000. Similarly a national Village Council Election was held in April 2001, whereby residents under the new act voted directly and by way of ballots for Chairpersons.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Table 1: Date of Election by Outcome

Date of Election
December 17, 1980 December 16, 1981 September 14, 1983 December 14, 1984 March 27, 1985 March 27, 1985 December 10, 1986 March 16, 1988 September 4, 1989 December 6, 1989 March 25, 1991 March 18, 1993 June 30, 1993 March 8, 1994 March 18, 1996 March 11, 1997 August 1998 March 3, 1999 March 1, 2000 March 1, 2000 March 5, 2003 “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ “ October 29, 2003 March 1, 2006 “ “ “

Outcome Party Seat %Voter UDP PUP Turnout
0 26 9 21 4 35 9 19 13 0 14 0 16 43 0 3 3 0 2 0 21 0 0 7 1 46 7 9 16 0 7 0 14 0 30 15 9 35 9 13 6 9 46 26 11 47 7 28 7 11 22 0 3 0 65.30 76.03 57.46 74.90 44.30 69.37 49.40 71.53 72.60 47.55 68.33 44.27 71.60 69.24 44.21 67.14 90.14 57.35 72.35 69.51 77.73 70.69 71.85 79.51 72.63 67.81 70.45

Type of Election
Belize City Council Town Board Belize City Council General Belize City Council Town Board Belize City Town Board General Belize City Town Board Belize City Council General Town Board Belize City Council Town Board General Belize City Council Town Council Belmopan City Council Town Council Belmopan City Council Belize City Council General Cayo South By-election Town Council Belmopan City Council


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
“ “ “ February 7, 2008 March 4, 2009 * “ “ “ “ “ “ * 11 25 46 0 11 0 6 3 7 0 61.50 77.18 60.33 51.46 42.10

Belize City Council General Town Council Belmopan City Council Belize City Council

In 2003, all Municipalities were scheduled to hold elections on the first Wednesday in March, as required under the new City Councils and Town Councils Acts. This meant that two elections were to be held as in 2000, with the inclusion of the largest municipality, Belize City for the first time. General Election was also slated to be held sometime in 2003; and the Government took the bold decision to hold the General Election on the same day as the scheduled two Municipal Elections. Therefore three elections were held on the same day in 2003. According to the Election Report (www.belize-elections.org), voter turnout was high, spoilt ballots and rejected ballots cast were within normal occurrences, and there were no appeals for reviews and/or recounts (Palacio, 2003).

Local Election & Outcome of General?
The first Town Board Elections after Belize’s independence were held some three months later, on Dec 16, 1981. Although the UDP garnered the majority (26) of the 42 seats, three Town Boards, namely, Corozal and Orange Walk were split politically, four seats to three in favour of the PUP; and the UDP garnered Dangriga. The UDP won all seven seats in Benque Viejo and San Ignacio, and the PUP won Punta Gorda (see Section Three). Up until after 1991, politically mixed Town Boards were the norm whereby each Town demonstrated its Electors’ choices (Palacio, 1999). In 2003, there were no politically split 52

Town Councils, but four Towns voted entirely in support of the PUP and three Towns totally for the UDP. The new trend in a combined Municipal Election is that the winning party takes the majority of the seats, particularly as the campaign is more about national issues, than of the concerns at the local level. Table 1 demonstrates the date of elections by outcome and type of election from 1981 (independence) to present (post-independence). The Table shows that the UDP won the General Election, Town Board and City Council Elections after Belize attained its independence. For nearly a decade, beginning with the Town Board Elections of 1981, until 1989, the UDP dominated elected leadership in the House of Representatives, Town Board and City Council. There are several reasons for such including the realities of change in a recently independent Belize, for both leaders and citizenry. Also while the UDP won the 1985 by-election and full City Council Election in 1986, voter turnout was the lowest since 1956, and at 44.3% and 49.4% respectively represented less than 50% of the Electorate. This started the trend of minority voter turnout to Belize City Council Elections until the election of 1999, a total of 5 consecutive elections in nearly fourteen years. The PUP won the General Election of September 4, 1989, to form the second government after the attainment of independence. With a narrow margin of fifteen seats to thirteen seats for the opposition UDP in the House of Representatives, and a party popularity at the polls of exactly 50%; the PUP went on to win the 1989 Belize City Council Election some three months later by a landslide. The landslide trend for the PUP continued with the 1991 Town Board Elections and the second City Council Election in March 1993. However the PUP lost the General Election held on June 30, 1993, some three months after the landslide win (Table 1). Therefore the theory that the political party that wins the Municipal Election wins the General Election, and vice versa does not hold true. It is invariably during those 53

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

periods when the election is called immediately following a General Election; for example, March 1984 for UDP and Sept 1989 for the PUP (Table 1). The effect of one over the other has more to do with pressing concerns of the period. One such example is, the PUP losing a General Election in 1993 some three months after a landslide victory in the Belize City Council Election. There were suspicions regarding the introduction of an early parliamentary election call into the political culture, and also the rumors of immigrant registration starting out of the Dangriga voter registration office, did not auger well for the PUP in the 1993 General Elections (Palacio, 1993; The People’s Pulse, July11, 1993; pg. 4). The 1998 to 2008 decade of domination by the PUP was not a new occurrence for a political party, as the UDP dominated from 1981 to 1989 (Table 1). The phenomenon was the backto-back successes of the PUP at the polls for the 1998 and 2003 General Elections. In so doing, the PUP formed two consecutive governments, a first in post-independent Belize. The continuous display of change in Electors’ choices for leaders to the House of Representatives reveals that party loyalty for both major political parties is small and that large percentages (66%) of Voters are “fence-sitters” (Palacio, 1993). These Electors are invariably anti-establishment and they decide the outcome of the vote.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

1980 1981 1983 1985 1986 1988 1989 1991 1993 1994

Table 2 Average % Voter Participation 1981 - 2009 Belize City Towns Belmopan
65.30 -57.46 44.30** 49.40 -47.55 -44.27 --76.03 -69.37 -71.53 -68.33 -69.24 -----------


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
1996 1997 1999 2000 2003 2006 2009 * 44.21 -57.35 -71.85 61.50 42.10 -67.14 -72.35 77.73 67.81 60.33 ---69.51 70.69 70.45 51.46

** By-elections for Belize City Council * NB: Slight inaccuracies at data source www.elections.gov.bz for 2009 due to use of wrong divisor and miscalculations

It was not until 2003 that the results of Municipal Elections can be grouped as such, to determine a national average of voter participation for Municipalities. Prior to 2003, Towns were grouped as Town Boards, with a separate City Council Election; Belize City being the only City until Belmopan in 2000. The grouping of Municipalities as one election does have tremendous advantages for election management, primarily from an economic or financial viewpoint. However, by so grouping them into one election, the stakes are higher for the politicians as the recent trends have demonstrated that the winner-takes-all as the outcome. The winner-takes-all is compounded when a General Election is called near to the time of the Municipal Elections. This is no longer a novelty, as conducting multiple elections in one day was accomplished by the PUP administration in March 2003, and so the risk of innovation no longer exists. The advantage of the winner-takes-all is more on the part of the politician, as while the politician has absolute power, the Electors’ only recourse to an inept political administration may be to wait or “put up” until another election call.

How and What is Low Voter Participation?
During 1985 to 1996, four full Belize City Council Elections and one By-election (March 1985), continuously demonstrated voter turnout far below what was the norm; and below 50% of registered voters (Table 1). In 1985 voter turnout was described as low relative to 55

the trend prior, and also exemplified an election where the Council was voted in by a minority group of Electors. The latter, that of a minority elected Council was the first such occurrence since the early period of 1956, and became the new standard and election culture, until a paradigm shift in 1999, for the Belize City Council Elections. For ease of reference in this section, Table 2 displays the averages in voter participation for Municipal Elections only. 1999 saw the first Belize City Council Election for Mayor, whereby the office of Mayor was elected separately. turnout of 50% and more of registered electors. The voter turnout increased tremendously by approximately 13% to 57.35%, and started the new benchmark for voter The Table reveals that this pattern continued, with voter participation increasing over the next two elections under the new Belize City Council Act, in 2003 (71.85%) and in 2006 (61.5%). The new archetype was short-lived, as the 2009 Municipal Elections displayed the lowest voter turnout ever (42.1%), and regressing approximately 13 years to a minority elected Belize City Council as occurred in 1985 to 1996 (Appendix i). No political opinion surveys or polls were conducted for the 2009 Municipal Elections to scientifically determine the reasons for a low voter turnout. The responses to similar queries in a survey conducted in 1993 are being offered as an example of Voters’ attitude. Although this transpired some 16 years ago, the current concerns are similar though not in parallel numbers, and the reasons offered at 1993 are as follows (Palacio, 1993: 60):      30.6% --discouraged or not satisfied with the political system 28.6%--no confidence in politicians or don’t care for politicians 18.5%--confused between parties 16.3%--political parties not for poor people 5.9%--did not offer an opinion 56

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Table 3 exhibits percent of voter turnout by town and year of election and is limited to Town Board Elections for this section only. It reveals that unlike the Belize City Council, Councilors for all Town Boards, have to date been elected by a majority of the Voters. Also, it is evident that election participation of Voters has traditionally been well above 50% for each Town Board ranging from 56% to 88% (Table 3). Data for Punta Gorda was not available for 1997 at the time of completing this study, so that Punta Gorda was not factored into the national Town Board average. Invariably, the lowest and highest voter turnouts have unfailingly been Dangriga and San Pedro Ambergris Caye, respectively. The other Town Boards have been constant in percentage of voter turnouts, through the election years. For example, Orange Walk Town shows a voter turnout in the high 60% to low 70%; and likewise are Corozal, Benque and Punta Gorda. The national average for Town Boards varied, between 69.37% in 1985, 69.24% in 1994 and 67.14% in 1997. While these averages demonstrate a small decline, these are well above 50%, unlike the election outcomes for Belize City. The era whereby Electors voted directly for Mayors in Town Council Elections, is demonstrated in Table 4. The Table displays voter turnout during the period 2000 to 2009, and includes the City of Belmopan and Belize City (1999). Table 4 clearly establishes that Town Councils continued to experience voter turnouts that exceeded 50% for all four elections, from 2000 to 2009. Also the Table exhibits that Dangriga invariably still had the lowest voter turnout. While San Pedro Ambergris Caye is still high, Benque Viejo has taken the lead to be among the highest in voter turnout. The City of Belmopan shows high voter turnout relative to Corozal, Benque Viejo and San Pedro Ambergris Caye, as explained above. This is from the first election in 2000 to the election of 2006, totaling 3 elections for Belmopan. In 2000, the national average for Town Councils shows a slight increase to 72.35% over 67.14% in 1997 (Table 3). The inclusion of the City of Belmopan 57

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

in the national average for 2000 does not greatly affect the voter turnout of approximately 72% (Table 4).

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Municipality Corozal Orange Walk San Pedro Ambergris Benque Viejo del Carmen San Ignacio/Santa Elena Dangriga Punta Gorda Town Board Average

Table 3 MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 1981 – 1997 Town Board % Voter Turnout by Municipality and Election Year
1981 76.90 78.80 -74.30 76.30 73.20 76.70 76.03 1985 72.80 71.1 84.50 65.40 66.0 55.60 70.20 69.37 1988 73.90 71.30 88.30 72.40 63.60 59.0 72.20 71.53 1991 72.91 69.68 81.71 68.51 65.95 52.81 66.74 68.33 1994 67.37 72.65 80.28 70.64 66.31 58.54 68.88 69.24

Source: Belize Today, April 1991; Belize Gazette, April 10, 1988; March 12, 1994, January 16, 1982 Supplement to New Belize, April 1985

1997 64.90 68.46 79.47 72.24 61.97 55.82 -67.14

As demonstrated in Table 4, a national average for Municipal Elections can only be calculated from the election of 2003 to 2009. The national average of 76.3% in 2003 declined by approximately 10% to 67.41% in 2006, and yet another decline of exactly 10.09% in 2009. This represents a decidedly steady decline nationally, due directly to a steady decline in each municipality of approximately 7% to 10% for each of these elections; with the exception of the City of Belmopan. Tables 3 and 4 reveal that the national averages for Municipal Election years 2000 to 2006 are above 50%, and to a large extent, range from approximately 18% to 27% more. Similarly, the national average for Town Boards ranges from 11% to 21% more than 50%. Therefore the data established a trend of high voter turnout for Towns and the City of Belmopan. Similarly, between the 1999 and 2006 elections, Belize City Council established a trend that far exceeded 50% in voter participation, but dropped below 50% in 2009. Table 4 also clearly demonstrates a countrywide decline in voter participation in Belize at 2009—every town, every city. 58

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Municipality Belize City Belmopan Corozal Orange Walk San Pedro Ambergris Benque Viejo San Ignacio/Santa Elena Dangriga Punta Gorda ** Town Board/Council Average National Average

Table 4 MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 1996 – 2009 % Voter Turnout by Municipality and Election Year
1996/97 44.21 -64.90 68.46 79.47 72.24 61.97 55.82 -67.14 -1999 57.35 ----------2000 69.51 69.15 75.20 75.58 80.09 71.33 64.46 70.65 72.35 -2003 71.85 70.69 81.09 80.90 80.02 84.14 78.90 68.23 70.85 77.73 76.30

2006 61.50 70.45 71.20 73.90 71.00 75.40 61.80 59.10 62.30 67.81 67.41

*2009 42.10 51.46 63.57 66.86 61.34 66.41 54.29 51.23 58.59 60.33 57.32

Source: 2003- 2009— www.belize-elections.org & www.elections.gov.bz *2009 slightly overstated on www.elections.gov.bz ** No data available for Punta Gorda—error in Gazette

Comparison of 2006 and 2009
Voter Turnout
Voter turnout for the Municipal Elections of 2006 and 2009 are compared by election year in Table 5. The Table shows a wide range of variances for each municipality from 3.71% for Punta Gorda to 19.4% for Belize City. Interestingly, the two cities, namely Belize City which is the largest metropolis, and the City of Belmopan which is the locale for government administration, both exhibited the widest variances in decline in voter participation, and in the very high two digit figures. Benque Viejo del Carmen, Corozal and San Pedro Ambergris Caye being Municipalities with a trend of consistently high voter turnout, a decline in 2009 of a near two-digit figure was highly unusual. 59

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Table 5 MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2006 & 2009 Comparison of % Voter Turnout by Election Year Municipality 2006
61.50 70.45 71.20 73.90 71.00 75.40 61.80 59.10 62.30 67.41

Belize City Belmopan Corozal Orange Walk San Pedro Ambergris Benque San Ignacio/Santa Elena Dangriga Punta Gorda National Average

42.10 51.46 63.57 66.86 61.34 66.41 54.29 51.23 58.59 57.32

19.40 18.99 7.63 7.04 9.66 8.99 7.51 7.87 3.71 --

Source 2006 & 2009—website www.elections.gov.bz on March 25, 2009 2009 slightly overstated due to wrong calculations & divisor used

The last minority elected Belize City Council was in 1996 (13 years) with a voter turnout of 44.21% (Table 2). In 2009 Belize City Council is again a minority elected Council at 42.1% voter turnout, which represents the lowest ever for any municipality (Appendix i). The Election on March 4, 2009 can go down in the annals of political history as having the lowest voter turnout ever—lowest national average, lowest average for Towns and the City of Belmopan ever. The Electors voted with their feet by staying away from the polls. This is unprecedented and may be of major interest to political leaders, social planners and students of political science. All in all the data clearly express a countrywide “sit-out” on Election Day 2009 by the Electors of Belize’s Municipalities. What could be the reasons for such action or inaction? The reasons offered above from a previous research and publication, pointed generally to 60

apathy. Along with apathy was the possible disenchantment with leadership at the local and/or the national levels. The data speak to this in another section of this research. This deep decline of voter participation at the polls may not set a trend, but that communities will rebound as is the political culture. However, what is certain is that the “sit-out” expresses a deafening statement and cry-out by Electors to their political Leaders, and may become a trend if not heeded.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Women’s Participation
Women have always dominated the political arena, but generally only as support staff, such as campaigners and purveyors of food. Women are yet to demand their places as candidates for the Municipal Elections and in particular the Parliamentary Elections. Also both major political parties are controlled4 at the party leadership level by the male of the species. The 1997 Town Board Elections saw the largest number of women as candidates, a total of 8 out of approximately 90 candidates (Palacio, 1999). Who is voting by sex and other variables was determined in another research for Belize City (SPEAReport 6, 1991). This publication established that a higher percentage of women participate as voters than men. It also revealed the challenges in accessing data from politicians and their agents. For purposes of a quick analysis, similar methods were employed utilizing one electoral division in Belize City. The electoral division is Fort George, selected for its mix in socio-economic status, its diverse ethnicity, as well as for timely access to data requested in terms of prompt and efficient responses to requests made (SPEAReports 6: Palacio, 1990). The Voters’ List used in the Polling Stations on polling day by the Fort George electoral division of the PUP was the sample data for this study. While the result was similar in terms of sex as the study

PUP National Executive (NE) endorsed at the 2010 National Convention comprises of 5 women out of 31 members—“The Blue Tsunami”; www.belizetimes.bz, Oct. 22, 2010. Data on UDP NE not available.


quoted above, it cannot be generalized for Belize due to the limited universe. However, the outcome from this small sample is utilized in this study as an illustration of its potential and what is achievable for further investigation in this area in the future. The findings are that although Fort George electoral division has slightly more men (51%) than women (49%) registered as Electors at January 2009 (www.elections.gov.bz), more women (54%) voted than men (46%) in the Belize City Council Election of 2009. Along with sex, the age cohort 31 to 50 years consistently turned out to vote for all three polling areas of this electoral division. The two women candidates who won their mayoral seats in San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Belize City did so against male counterparts; and Zenaida Moya won the candidacy against a challenge from a male contender. Both Zenaida Moya of Belize City and Elsa Paz of San Pedro Ambergris Caye were the first women elected as Mayors by the Voters, with Paz being the first elected woman Mayor in 2003. Moya was first elected into office in 2006. Does this mean that women are voting for women as leaders? In the case of San Pedro Ambergris Caye, scientific observation reveals that a large percentage of Voters including those who voted in 2009 are new Belizeans and/or newcomers to the Island Town, with a new thinking, and an independent perspective. This attitude can be reinforced by the fact that a top vote getter for the winning party UDP is also a relatively new resident. This speaks volumes for the socio-political and socio-cultural development of San Pedro Ambergris Caye. In the case of Belize City, Moya received the least votes for the UDP and was elected by a minority group of electors, at less than 50% voter turnout, and the lowest ever recorded in the history of free elections in Belize. Three female candidates from two communities topped the polls in the 2009 Municipal Elections. These were Elsa Paz in San Pedro Ambergris Caye, albeit by only 11 votes; Enid 62

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Morales and Rozel Flores-Arana, both of Orange Walk Town representing the UDP and PUP respectively. Along with San Pedro, Orange Walk Town is another municipality that has from time to time demonstrated some independence in Voters’ choices and high level of participation. Although with a small margin of five votes, Elsa Paz also topped the polls in 2006; and 2009 is her third success at garnering the Mayor’s seat. It shows that although the number of women candidates invariably has not improved over time, those women who made it on the ballot in 2009, were identified by Voters as possible choices for leadership via the vote.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

The Essential Popularity
Political Party
Political Party popularity is determined by the total number or percentage of votes obtained by each political party at an election. In a Municipal Election each ballot cast can have from 0 to 11 votes in the case of Belize City, or from 0 to 7 votes for all other Municipalities including the City of Belmopan. Therefore each ballot cast may have multiple votes. Table 6 demonstrates municipality by party popularity for five elections from 1996 for Belize City to 2009 for all municipalities, bearing in mind that the first election for a Council for the City of Belmopan was in 2000. A steady decline is demonstrated in Table 6 for the PUP in all five elections, particularly between 2000 and 2009. There is no vacuum in political party popularity, so that a decline for the PUP is an increase for the UDP; just the opposite effect during the same periods. In Belize City, the popularity of the PUP declined from 60% in 1999, to 38.5% and 39.6% in 2006 and 2009 respectively. 63

Table 6 MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS (1997) 2000 – 2009 Political Party Popularity by % of Votes and Election Year Municipality 1996/97 1999 2000 2003 2006 2009 PUP PUP PUP PUP 38.5 PUP Belize City *
55.79 60.0 UDP 37.1 UDP NABR 3.7 40.0 PDP 3.4 --54.8 UDP 44.2 IND 1.0 UDP 61.3 NABR .2 39.56 UDP 60.44

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PUP 53.3 UDP 44.1 IND 12.6 PUP 51.99 UDP 48.01 PUP 57.45 UDP 42.55 PUP 47.78 UDP 52.22 PUP 45.4 UDP 54.6

PUP 34.0 UDP 46.5 VIP 19.5 PUP 45.71 UDP 49.86 WTP 4.43 PUP 45.9 UDP 54.1 PUP 40.9 UDP 58.59 IND 0.51 PUP 48.16 UDP 51.84


PUP 56.58 UDP 43.42 PUP 60.73 UDP 39.27 PUP 52.38 UDP 47.63 PUP 55.53 UDP 44.47


PUP 55.9 UDP 44.1 PUP 60.0 UDP 40.0 PUP 54.7 UDP 45.3 PUP 49.1 UDP 50.9

PUP 22.12 UDP 55.67 VIP 22.22 PUP 42.77 UDP 56.83 IND 0.39 PUP 49.90 UDP 50.10 PUP 34.64 UDP 65.36 PUP 23.63 UDP 74.11 BA 2.27

Orange Walk


San Pedro Ambergris


Benque Viejo



San Ignacio/Santa Elena

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
PUP 49.98 UDP 49.51 NABR .51 PUP 55.23 UDP 44.46 NABR .31 PUP 57.51 UDP 41.82 NABR .67 -PUP 50.5 UDP 49.5 PUP 56.9 UDP 43.1 PUP 56.5 UDP 45.5 PUP 47.51 UDP 52.49 PUP 55.14 UDP 46.86 PUP 54.95 UDP 44.05 PUP 35.51 UDP 63.77 IND 0.72 PUP 37.92 UDP 61.75 PUP 46.35 UDP 50.11 IND 3.54



Punta Gorda


Source: 1996 to 2000—Belize Gazette, 2003—www.belize-elections.org, 2006 & 2009—www.elections.gov.bz Note: 1999 Belize City’s 1st Mayoral election March 3rd 1999 * 1996 only is Belize City Council

PUP 26.89 UDP 68.97 IND 4.14 PUP 40.01 UDP 58.81 IND 1.18 PUP 37.8 UDP 51.76 PNP 7.82 IND 2.62

The popularity of the UDP shot up from 40% to 62.3%, and 60.4% for the same election period (Table 6). The popularity gap widened drastically in 2006 and continued to 2009 with the UDP gaining over the PUP in all Municipalities. The greatest gains for the UDP and losses for the PUP were in the municipalities of San Pedro Ambergris Caye, and the entire west of the country—the capital Belmopan, San Ignacio/Santa Elena and Benque Viejo del Carmen. In the City of Belmopan the third party, Vision Inspired for the People (VIP), garnered 23 or 0.10% more votes than the PUP. This represents about 3 to 5 electors, and although it is a meager victory for the VIP, yet in politics a victory IS. Along with the poor showing in the western towns for the PUP, the election outcome from the new capital City of Belmopan did not help. 65

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
In Belize City and Orange Walk Town, the PUP gained 1% and 4% respectively more votes than in 2006, but these numbers are greatly less than the popularity obtained by the PUP in 2003, for both municipalities. Orange Walk must be highlighted as the Town that obtained the only 3 out of 49 seats garnered by the PUP in 2009; leaving Orange Walk with the only mixed Town Council of 3 seats to 4 in favour of the UDP. What caused such a massive decline in popularity for the PUP particularly in the west of the country and in Belize City, the largest metropolis, is worth researching. Other factors offered by this research, is that the west is similar to San Pedro as one of the fastest growing population with a high percentage of new Belizeans on the electoral roll. These new Electors bring in a new experience to the political environment. Similarly, an environmental scan of Belize City shows that new Belizeans have also steadily made in-roads into the Belize City, carving niches on the out-skirts5 of this Old Capital. In statistically assessing the political parties’ popularity, one must also make reference to the voter turnout and its possible effect on the popularity of one party over the other. The 2009 Municipal Election is unprecedented as having the lowest voter turnout, in the last two decades of electioneering in Belize. The Councilors for Belize City, the largest metropolis and the political and economic hub of the country were elected by a minority (42.1%) or less than one-half of the electorate; after reversing this trend for the last three elections 1999, 2003 and 2006 (Appendix i). Voter turnout is the Voter’s direct participation at the polls, and in turn reflects Voter behaviour and Voter attitude. Among other things, a position of disenchantment was the stance clearly communicated by the electorate in 2009.


Some of the areas are Belama Phase 4, Jane Usher Blvd and its environs, and recently the “south side” of Chetumal St.


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

The Leaders or Mayoral Candidates

The drastic changes in party popularity and unprecedented low voter turnout countrywide, require cross-referencing with the appeal of the Parties’ leadership to the electorate at the national and local levels. It is important therefore, to discuss the performance of candidates particularly those selected/elected to lead, namely those elected to candidacy for the Office of Mayor. Table 7 demonstrates elected Mayors by Municipality and year of election for four consecutive Municipal Elections. The names highlighted with an asterisk, represent Mayors who topped the polls for their respective political parties. Invariably most of the mayoral candidates did not top the polls for the four elections demonstrated in Table 7. In 1999, the first election of Mayor for the Belize City Council, neither the winning candidate David Fonseca, nor the losing candidate Anthony “Boots” Martinez, topped the polls for their respective political parties. In 2000 only 3 (18.7%) of 16 candidates for the Office of Mayor topped the polls. These were Cassian Nunez and Anthony Channona as winning PUP candidates who topped the polls in Dangriga Town and the City of Belmopan respectively (Table 7). Also the mayoral candidate for the UDP in Punta Gorda, Benjamin Westby, topped the polls for his party, but lost the election to Anthony Westby, the PUP candidate. Some progress was realized for the 2003 Municipal Elections, as 5 of 9 winning Mayors topped the polls. These were: David Fonseca and Anthony Channona, PUP candidates for Belize City and City of Belmopan, respectively; Cassian Nunez (PUP) for Dangriga, Mario Narvaez (PUP) for Corozal Town, and Said Badi Guerra (UDP) with 12 votes from Benque Viejo del Carmen. The next two Municipal Elections 2006 and 2009 saw a decline, with only 2 and 3 respectively, of the successful mayoral candidates topping the polls for their respective political parties. For 2006, these were Frank “Papa” Mena for the UDP in 67

Dangriga, and Elsa Paz for the UDP in San Pedro Ambergris Caye, both with small margins of 5 votes each. Although Carlos “Obeah” Galvez (PUP) of Punta Gorda and Alfonso Cruz, Jr. (UDP) of San Ignacio/Santa Elena won the Mayoral Office sought, they did not top the polls for their respective political parties. In the case of Punta Gorda, Galvez received the least amount of votes for his political party.

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Table 7 Vote Topping Elected Mayors by Election Year Municipality 1999/2000 Mario Narvaez Corozal Orange Walk San Ignacio Benque Viejo San Pedro Dangriga
Reynaldo Burgos Orlando Habet Gerardo M. Sosa Alberto “Beto” Nunez * Cassian Nunez Westby * Anthony Channona David Fonseca

* Mario Narvaez Hilberto Campos Hilberto
Henry Castillo Alfonso Cruz Jr. Ravell Gonzalez John August Gerardo M. Sosa




Campos Phillip de la Fuenta John August

* Said “Badi”
Guerra Elsa Paz

* Nicolasito

* Elsa Paz
Mena Carlos “Obeah” Galvez Simeon Lopez Zenaida Moya

* Elsa Paz
Gongora Floyd Lino

* Cassian Nunez * Frank “Papa” Aaron
Carlos “Obeah” Galvez * Anthony Channona * David Fonseca

Punta Gorda Anthony L. Belmopan Belize City

* Simeon

Lopez Zenaida Moya

Source: 2006 & 2009—www.elections.gov.bz; 2003— www.belize-elections.org Source: 1999/2000—reference Tables 1 & 2 1999—Belize City only * Mayors who topped polls


For 2009, the three Mayors who topped the polls were Elsa Paz, Nicolasito Ruiz and Simeon Lopez, all UDP Mayors. Municipal Elections:     Belmopan: PUP mayoral candidate acquired more votes than the VIP mayoral candidate San Ignacio/Santa Elena: Independent mayoral candidate garnered more votes than the PUP mayoral candidate Mayors for Belize City, San Ignacio/Santa Elena received far less votes than Councilors in their party Belize City Mayor received the least amount of votes within the UDP The data have indicated that the choices for mayoral candidates by the political parties including the VIP were invariably not the choice of the Voters. This can be attributed not only to choices at the local level for candidacy, but also by the persuasive influences of the national leadership of the major political parties in the selection of candidates (Palacio, 1993). The following are other observations for the 2009

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Looking at Belize City
There are 10 electoral divisions or constituencies in Belize City, and for the 2009 Municipal Elections statistics on voter participation by electoral division were downloaded from the official website for the Elections and Boundaries Department, www.elections.gov.bz. The data were further tallied and analyzed to obtain political party popularity for this study. Table 8 displays political party popularity by electoral division, and includes voter turnout for purposes of clarity, with footnotes to emphasize the limitations of various data provided. At the time of analyzing this data (March 23, 2009), updates on the official website for voter turnout for various constituencies still did not reflect the end of the polling hour. 69

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Five of the ten electoral divisions show high political party popularity of over 60% and are listed below, in descending order of political party popularity (Table 8).      Mesopotamia (83.6%) Port Loyola (76%) Queens Square (75%) Collet (70.84%) Fort George (61.77%) UDP UDP UDP UDP PUP

Four of the five constituencies were won by the UDP and three of the four garnered overall voter turnout of a little over 30%. Mesopotamia was the highest at 46.26%, and had the second largest voter participation. For the PUP, Fort George was the only electoral division (61.77%) among the top 5 identified above, followed by Albert Division with 52.44% party popularity. While Fort George overwhelmingly won all polling areas of the constituency for the PUP, Albert Division lost one polling area (#16) out of three polling areas, to garner a little over 50% for the PUP popularity vote. The PUP in the Lake Independence electoral division garnered equal number of votes as the UDP, and therefore both Parties obtained a draw (50%-50%); with the UDP winning polling area #17B and the PUP victorious in polling area #17. The UDP won the popularity contest in 7 out of 10 electoral divisions and overwhelmingly in four of the 7 as highlighted above. The popularity in Freetown (52.3%), Caribbean Shores 53.5%) and Pickstock (55.6%) were not so overwhelming, but it IS a win. Also Pickstock demonstrated the lowest in voter turnout of approximately less than 25%, and so did Port Loyola (Table 8). On another table on the official website that shows the results of 70

voter turnout for all the municipalities, Belize City had an average of 42.1% voter turnout (Appendix i)). Cecil Reneau (PUP) lost to Zenaida Moya (UDP) for the Mayor’s Office sought, by approximately 2700 votes or approximately 400 Electors, but he led his party in almost all the electoral divisions for the PUP. Reneau performed well relative to his opponent Moya, as he is a political novice, against Moya the incumbent. Also Reneau and his team had approximately 6 weeks of campaign time, relative to Moya’s three years in office. The convening of conventions to endorse candidates in the face of the election was not a good approach employed by the PUP. Moya received the least votes for the UDP and approximately 300 votes less than the vote topper, Eric Chang.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Table 8 BELIZE CITY MINICIPAL ELECTIONS 2009 Political Party Popularity by Constituency Electoral Division % Party UDP
52.3 53.5 55.6 38.23 47.56 75.0 83.6 50.0 70.84 76.0

Freetown Caribbean Shores Pickstock Fort George Albert Queens Square Mesopotamia Lake Independence Collet Port Loyola

Popularity PUP
47.7 46.5 44.4 61.77 52.44 25.0 16.4 50.0 29.16 24.0

Voter Turnout
48.5 46.14 23.81 31.91 33.62 38.29 46.26 33.78 33.74 30.01

Source: www.elections.gov.bz


Eric Chang is not the first person of the Asian ethnic group to compete in Belize’s elections. In 1954, the first election after universal adult suffrage, Jose Leon Chin won the Corozal constituency for the PUP-GWU with 63.2% of the political party’s popularity vote (Palacio, 1993). Chin went on to contest the General Elections in 1957 under the HIP banner and lost to Santiago Ricalde, receiving only 15.3% of the popular vote (Palacio, 1993). Mr. Jose Leon Chin may have been the first, but subsequently others have competed. For example, Paul Mahung topped the polls in the Punta Gorda Town Board Elections in 1981 for the PUP (Palacio, 1999). A telephone conversation with Mr. Mahung6 not only confirmed the election outcome, but that he identifies ethnically with his father. Lastly, as current as 2007, Johnny Chee competed in the UDP convention for standard bearer in the Stann Creek West Division, but lost the convention bid. The 2000 Census Report places the Chinese population at approximately 0.8%. persons of Chinese descent are ubiquitous, particularly in Belize City. But

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

subsequent to this Report, the Chinese community has grown by leaps and bounds and The Chinese community exhibits all the symbols of being an ethnic group (Palacio, 1995). Generally, its members have refrained from participating as party political candidates, and their contributions are mainly as small to medium dry goods businesses and restaurant owners. In Belize City, they have aggressively taken over the neighbourhood grocery stores, thereby changing this Belizean culture in physical appearances and processes of conducting business. Some of these stores also double as fast food (fried chicken) shops and oftentimes as residences. These are located in every electoral division of Belize City since the last decade, and have impacted greatly on the daily lives of Belizeans.


Paul Mahung’s father came from mainland China


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Table 9 BELIZE CITY MINICIPAL ELECTIONS 2009 UDP Vote Toppers by Constituency Chang
941 1356 587 495 551 1252 1210 971 1153 1081

Freetown Caribbean Shores Pickstock Fort George Albert Queens Square Mesopotamia Lake Independence Collet Port Loyola

Electoral Division

901 1356 579 477 550 1237 1217 969 1144 1089

924 1355 593 485 490 1244 1225 963 1142 1090

Source: www.elections.gov.bz

While Eric Chang is not the first Chinese to contest elections in Belize, he may be the first Chinese to do so in the largest metropolis, Belize City, which overtly consists of businesses that are Chinese owned and managed. However, Eric Chang as a relatively “new”7 Belizean, and a political novice topped the polls for the UDP with a popularity vote that surpassed that of the incumbent Mayor. In fact, Table 8 shows that Chang dominated 7 out of 10 constituencies in topping the polls in these constituencies for the UDP. Although by a small margin, he out-rightly won for the UDP the following electoral divisions of Belize City: Freetown, Fort George, Albert, Queens Square, Lake Independence, and Collet. Along with these six, Chang tied Caribbean Shores with another UDP candidate, Roger Espejo. Eric Chang’s vote-topping may be no political accident, and may phenomenally represent an ethnic vote in Belize City. The Chinese community came out to vote. The participation of this single group, in an election that most other Belizeans “sat-out”, is

“New” relative to “Old” families resident 60+ years, e.g. Mahung, Mak, Liu, Wong K, Chee, Chin


momentous. This vote may also have a significant impact in the future. What does it say for Belize and political leadership in the future? Will this start a trend in ethnic voting and if so, what will be its effect on Belize? These questions are urban anthropological in nature and is worth researching if only for purposes of planning and policy in the future.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

2009--Reporting of the Election Results
Information Communication Technology (ICT) has made communication of information more effective and efficient via e-mails, telephones and websites, to name a few techniques now utilized in Belize. Election results are important. Its timely communication contributes to the concept of a free and fair election; and plays a vital factor in the practice of good governance principles. More importantly, the information communicated must be accurate and valid, and where there are errors, these are to be communicated in a transparent and timely manner. The concepts emanating, namely, “timely, accuracy, valid, transparent” are all principles of good governance as defined earlier in the document. It is in this light that the following data are identified and examined. As mentioned in the “Introduction”, there are important institutions mandated to report on and/or monitor election outcomes. These are the Elections and Boundaries Department (Department) as the arm of government responsible for election management, the Media which are deemed as important in communicating valid, accurate information for the common good of the public; and the Political Parties as direct participants in representing candidates. On Thursday March 5, 2009, approximately 24 hours after the close of polls, the data on the official website www.elections.gov.bz which publicized the outcome of the hourly count, had not been updated to reflect the actual election outcomes at the close of polls for most of 74

Belize City (6 out of 10 Constituencies), Belmopan City, and 3 out of 7 Towns. A random verification of the hourly count posted was conducted as a safeguard for data validity in this study. The test revealed that Orange Walk Town was grossly overstated in voter turnout, and already the Town was being touted in the Media as having the highest voter turnout, and stood out over all other Municipalities. The overstatement resulted from a possible mis-type for polling area #54 (La Immaculada R. C. School), which showed a voter turnout of 112.60%. While Orange Walk Town was overstated the other Municipalities were understated for reasons explained above and therefore indeed Orange Walk appeared to stand out tremendously. For no other reason, but for the unusual performance, the data should have been verified by the users of the information, specifically the Media. The error was brought to the attention of at least one Media house early March 6, 2009 during the morning Talk Shows. The Department corrected the error on the official website in its update later that day on March 6, 2009 by over-writing the previous postings, but did not elucidate the modifications. Needless to say, the Media that utilized voter turnout in the news cast on March 5, 2009 used the wrong data as the bases for their viewpoints. It continued for the next two mornings (March 5 & 6, 2009), on the Talk Shows both by Hosts and Callers. Channels 5 and 7 who are among the major news media houses in Belize, communicated the incomplete and/or inaccurate data on Thursday, March 5, 2009 as “gazette”. In the case of Channel 5, this was repeated on Friday March 6, 2009. Not only was the wrong data quoted with confidence, but by so doing, gave unjustified perspectives. For example, Channel 7 on the March 5 2009 evening news, some 2 days after the close of polls, determined a national average of 48.71% and further offered the explanation quoted below that it was:

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
“…low but not altogether anomalous as a review of past municipals show that voter turnout averaging just over 50%, except in aberrant years like 2003 when there were two elections in one.”

Channel 7’s news item continued that: “The lowest turnout was recorded in Belize City with 36.8% turnout and the highest in Orange Walk Town with 72.9% turnout followed closely by Benque at 71.9%.” Channel 5 on March 6, 2009 evening news said in the opening statement that: “The official statistics are saying that the voter turnout in Wednesday’s elections was within average, forty-eight percent. In Belize City, however, it was lower than in 2006, in fact by seventeen percent.” Based on the findings in this study, several misinformation and misconceptions emerged in the statement above by Channel 7 on March 5, 2009, four of which are highlighted below:
1. all the percentages of voter turnout quoted are incorrect 2. “just over 50%” voter turnout was never been the norm 3. voter turnout in 2009 IS altogether anomalous, unprecedented 4. national average comparisons can only be from 2003



The Department as is its legal responsibility, had posted the results on the official website by the evening of March 6, 2009, some two days after the election. But Channel 5 continued to repeat similar wrong information as Channel 7, even after two days had lapsed, and with modifications posted by the Department. Not only were the percentages wrong, but qualifying it as “within average” was grossly inaccurate. It is apparent, therefore that the Media may not have exercised due diligence in their “review of past municipals”, in sourcing and/or monitoring the accuracy and validity of data before communicating such to its trusting public. 76

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Four other observations are worthy of mentioning regarding the data posted by the Elections and Boundaries Department and are bulleted as follows:   The modifications on the official website were observed between March 6, 2009 and March 25, 2009—2 days to 3 weeks after the 2009 election Updates to the website---a) one modification was made to the voter turnout for Belize City and went from 43.90% to 42.10%; b) two modifications were made to the voter turnout for San Ignacio/Santa Elena on separate dates, and voter turnout changed from 22.85% to 42.41% to 54.29%; Corozal from 63.35%8 All voter turnout are slightly overstated for each Municipality due to incorrect divisors9 used (Appendix i) Miscalculation of ballots cast for Belize City, Belmopan, Corozal, and Dangriga

 

As offered in the section on “Definitions”, the calculation of the percentage of voter turnout is the total number of ballots cast divided by total number of registered voters. Ballots cast in the case of Municipal Elections represent voters who came to vote—one ballot cast, one voter. The official results on the official website continuously utilized “ballots used” instead of “ballots cast” as its divisor in calculating voter turnout. This is inaccurate, as there are “spoilt ballots” in every case that needs to be deducted from “ballots used” to obtain “ballots cast”. Doing otherwise is overstating the number of Voters who came to vote, and may be diverting from the definition of “ballots cast” as per the ROPA. While the errors may be an oversight by the Department, these are highlighted in this paper for reasons of transparency and accountability, and also because these are widely publicized officially, and on the World Wide Web no less.

8 9

No warnings indicating date of modification and reasons, e.g. a flash as a guide to data users Divisor used was # of ballots used instead of # of ballots cast up to March 25, 2009


The overstatements range from 0.7% to 0.60% and may appear somewhat inconsequential because the number of spoilt ballots is traditionally small (Appendix i). Had it been larger, the voter turnout could have been grossly miscalculated by the Department. The inaccuracies, no matter the amount are significant as it clouds the perception of data integrity and validity of information resulting from such data. It needs to be highlighted for reasons of transparency, not because the errors occurred, but more that it happened so consistently, went unnoticed on the Official Website some three weeks after the close of polls, and that modifications were not highlighted for clarity.

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A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


Most of us have at the back of our minds an awareness of socio-political and socio-cultural profile of Belize; but this awareness is primarily based on innate feelings. In a rapidly growing state, such as Belize, such gut reactions have its limitations. This study is a contribution to ongoing academic research on Belize. ICT was the method employed to economically distribute the first draft to a broad public of Belizeans and students on Belize. A wide dissemination is also one way of bestowing thanks on “giving” community members, most of whom are always willing to share their information. Election is a vital tool in our democracy, not only because it is the primary means of participation, but also that the outcome affects all aspects of people’s lives, such as the dispensing of scarce resources, jobs, housing, land; are all tied directly to the political system. Things elections in Belize appear simple and straightforward on the surface, but when one delves further, the complexities become obvious; as is highlighted in this study. The much awaited Municipal Elections of 2009 have come and gone, and while the number of seats remain the same as in 2006 (64 for UDP, 3 for PUP); the political circumstances have altered to some extent. For the opposition PUP, whatever little municipal power 79

gained, is now concentrated in one municipality of the country. Orange Walk Town10 is the home and part constituency (polling areas #54 & #53) of the newly elected PUP Leader. The PUP garnered 3 seats in the Orange Walk Town Council; nearly, but not enough votes to win the Town. Compounded by the marginal feat of the constituencies manned by the two Deputy Party Leaders in the Belize City Council Elections, 2009 did not augur well for the PUP. The UDP on the other hand, has obtained absolute power, having consolidated authority over all 9 municipalities and maintaining super-majority in the House of Representatives. At the same time, the political parties have lost their appeal to the electorate. They sat-out the election at a deafening rate by not turning out to vote, and those who voted, resoundingly avoided the leaders (Mayoral candidates) imposed by the political parties on the ballots. The former that of lowest voter turnout is unprecedented, but the latter (choice of candidates) is like a canker that has gone unnoticed for too long. The study made the case that transparency and accountability are much touted principles of good governance which are also vital in our democracies. Further, the research has The identified three institutions that are considered to be an indispensable element in a democracy, and should be cognizant of practicing good governance principles. constant modifications

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

by the Department were not arranged in a transparent manner and

while it is human to err, transparency allows for clear communication of the error and the modification. That this was not done in a timely manner is what is highlighted in this paper.

10 11

PUP won #’s 53 &54 with popularity of approximately 54%, but lost #’s 60 & 55 (46% & 39%) Cursory check of the official website on April 14, 2009 identified another modification: Voter turnout was corrected to reflect the accurate data as highlighted in “Glessima” column in Appendix i, except for slight errors in ballots cast for Corozal and Dangriga. No changes will be made to the paper at this late time & readers are asked to utilize Appendix i for the “new” Official Voter turnout as at April 14, 2009—e.g. Belize City now shows a voter turnout of 41.94%, instead of 42.1%. It does not affect the substance of this study.


Both News and Talk Show Media enjoy a fiduciary relationship with its public, who rely on the Media organizations for news and other information. This study has shown that the Media misrepresented the facts and downplayed the outcome of the 2009 elections with statements such as, “altogether anomalous” and “within average”. observations by other journalists. Firstly, Richard Merrill in his usual “Commentary” on Love FM sometime in February 2009 advised the Media to apply the four-way Rotary test. Secondly, G. Mike Reid on July 20, 2008 and Kwesi Pandy on the same date critiqued the Belize Media in separate newspapers. Reid’s article in The Belize Times entitled, “The Colour of Journalism in Belize”, offered that: “…true journalism …draws a distinction between the reporting of facts and the expression of opinions. In Belize, the line seems almost non-existent and it is often quite difficult to figure whether we are getting facts or opinion.” Kwesi Pandy’s article in The Reporter of the abovementioned date was entitled “Talk for Show” where he offered that: “…If the shows are supposed to educate us then why are they, very often, limited to the opinions of the hosts?” Pandy continues that he, “…does not see enough or rather hear enough opinion substantiated by statistics, research, or expert guests. What is fact and what is fiction? The lines are blurred badly….” Both newspaper articles speak about a Belize Media that distorts facts or don’t encourage the presentation of facts, and coupled with the findings in this study, it appears that the Belize Media may be hindering the values of transparency and accountability while 81 Whether this was deliberate or not is outside the scope of this paper; but it warrants sharing the following

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

appearing to serve those values. Various Talk Shows touted that Chan was the first Chinese to contest elections, and Media colleagues were unaware or overlooked that one of their own, Paul Mahung was a vote-topper for the 1981 Town Board Elections in Punta Gorda, and identifies as Chinese. Lastly, the third institution is the political party and all political parties have been quiet on the invalid data issue. Two inferences can be drawn from the silence—lack of awareness or perceive the issue as trivial; and the general reaction during an election aftermath. The political culture as has been observed before is that the winners are rejoicing and the losers have yet to fully recover. Generally, there is a tacit understanding among Voters that the two major political parties are still the vehicles to election success.

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

The following bullet points highlight particular myths dispelled in this research and various trends in Municipal Elections.          Electoral reform implemented through the Town and City Councils Acts regularized election dates, allowed for election of Mayor, and one Municipal Election Voter turnout for Town Boards and Town Councils have traditionally and consistently been high—well above 50% Back-to-back election was the norm until 2003 Wide shift of electorate is based largely on the burning issues for a particular period Dangriga Town traditionally has lower voter turnout compared with San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Benque Viejo Belize’s Media misrepresented facts, and downplayed election outcomes Introduction of an ethnic vote in Belize’s political culture coined political ethnicization Official results of voter turnout posted on the World Wide Web were inaccurate with numerous modifications without transparency Belizeans of Chinese descent have been participating in Belize’s election since 1954 82

    

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize

Women’s participation at the level of candidacy traditionally small in number, but a higher voting consciousness Women’s participation in 2009 appealed to voters Most Mayoral candidates presented on the ballot do not appeal to voters Candidates are selected by political parties by way of their own processes—a powerful task, but there is no legal framework to regulate political parties The combined Municipal Elections have started a trend of the winner-take-all which leaves a power imbalance

Election Phenomena
This election also had its share of rare occurrences, most notably having to do with voter turnout or lack of it. Voter turnout is voter participation at the polls and to a great extent communicates voter attitude. This IS the post-election issue for any political aspirant. Although the study compared and analysed the statistics about political party and leadership popularity, a “sit-out” by voters in each and every Municipality is the most crucial information. Voter turnout was an unprecedented low for each of the 9 Municipalities. Belize City, the largest municipality has a Council that was voted in by less than 50% of the eligible electorate, and obtained the lowest turnout for the entire country. The last case of a minority vote occurred some 13 years ago, in 1996, and also for Belize City. practice may have far reaching effects in the near future. The super-majority in the House of Representatives of 25 out of 31 seats garnered by the UDP at the polls in 2008, is not the first for either of the major political parties in postindependent Belize. Table 1 demonstrates that UDP in 1984 also obtained super-majority with 21 out of 28 seats or 75%. Similarly, the PUP in 1998 won 26 out of 29 seats or 89.7%; and in 2003, 22 out of 29 seats or 75.8%) in the House of Representatives. In 2003, 83 The possibility of the introduction of political ethnicization, is worth further research, as its

the PUP’s super-majority was short-lived as the outcome of a by-election to replace a deceased member in the Cayo South constituency was garnered by the UDP, taking away the three-fourths majority from the PUP. The difference with the circumstances in 2009 is that at those times the process of garnering super-majority in the House and management of all municipalities was gradual, but in 2009 it happened all at the same time. This is an outcome of the winner-takes-all trend of the now combined Municipal Elections. Things elections in Belize only appear simple!

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Bernard, H. Russell. 1994. Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Sage Publications. “…But Voter Turnout was only 52 Percent.” March 5, 2009. Government of Belize. 2000. The ROPA Chapt. 9. www.channel5belize.com.

Revised 2000.

Hill, Patricia. 1990. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. Unwin Hyman. “NGO’s Sets Up Trust Fund. July 11, 1993. The People’s Pulse. Pg. 7.

“Landslide Victory for UDP in Municipal Elections.” www.7newsbelize.com. Palacio, I. Myrtle. 1990. 6. Belize: Cubola.

March 5, March 2009. SPEAReport

“A Socio-Economic Profile of Belize City.”

-----. 1991. “Belize City Council Elections: Who is Participating.” SPEAReport 7. Belize: Cubola. -----. 1993. Who and What in Belizean Elections, 1954 -1993. Belize: Glessima Research and Services Ltd. -----. 1995. “Redefining Ethnicity: The Experiences of the Garifuna and Creole in Post-independence Belize.” Thesis. University of New Orleans. -----. -----. 1999. 2003. Selecting Our Leaders Past and Present. Belize: Government of Belize “Report on General and Municipal Elections, held March 2003”

-----. 2005. “The Election Management Body: Belize’s Experience in PostIndependence.” Paper presented at the Conference “Improving the Quality of Election Management. New Delhi, India February 24, 2005. -----. 2007. “Annual Report April 2006 to March 2007—Office of Governance, 85

A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Government of Belize”. 2008. Belize: Government of Belize. Pandy, Kwesi. Reid, Mike G. “Talk For Show.” The Reporter. 20 July 2008 20 July 2008 Pg. 4. “The Colour of Journalism in Belize.” July 11, 1993. The Belize Times.

“Registration Drama in Orange Walk”.

The People’s Pulse.

“SPEAR Gives Independent Assessment of Elections.” March , 2009. www.channel5belize.com. “The Blue Tsunami”. October 22, 2010. www.belizetimes.bz


A Review of Municipal Elections in Post-independent Belize
Appendix i MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS 2009 Voter Turnout Variances in *Official and Actual Data Municipality
Belize City Belmopan Corozal Orange Walk San Pedro Ambergris Benque San Ignacio/Santa Elena Dangriga Punta Gorda National Average

*Official Glessima’s Variance Data Calculation
42.10 51.46 63.57 66.86 61.34 66.41 54.29 51.23 58.59 57.32 41.94 51.29 63.31 66.26 61.06 66.30 54.22 50.98 58.43 57.09 .16 .17 .26 .60 .28 .11 .07 .25 .16 --

Source: 2006 & 2009—website www.elections.gov.bz on March 25, 2009 *2009 slightly overstated due to wrong calculations & wrong divisor used Website modifications between March 6 and March 25, 2009: 1. Belize City changed from 43.90% to 42.10% 2. San Ignacio changed from 22.85% to 42.41% to 54.29%


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