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Former AG: despite tons of money spent in elections, cynicism sends voters ‘the other way’

The political process in Belize is no doubt an interesting case study – and that’s putting it lightly. But in a culture where clientelism and cynicism run simultaneously and diametrically opposed to each other, a good case is being made for a great shift in how we vote, who we vote for and how the political process meaningfully develops this country. In remarks during the launch of Dr. Dylan Vernon’s new book, “Political Clientelism and Democracy in Belize: From My Hand to Yours” former PUP area representative, Godfrey Smith not only argues that change can come but often times political parties learn key lessons. One of those lessons, he says, is how voters, who are often cynical about politics on a whole, proves the Kriolism true: “tek deh money and vote dem out!” Here’s how he put it. 

Godfrey Smith, Former Foreign Minister and Attorney General: “The clientelism is of two fundamental forms the vote buying that goes on at election and the semi welfare state where all year long – and I can attest to this – for as long as you’re in politics you have to service the needs of all of your constituency like a good patron and all that comes out in the work. The impact of that is of course can be stated quite simply. Instead of ministers and politicians focusing on policies that will penetrate the root causes of the problems that we face in mass societies an ordinate amount of time is spent and energy is just spent servicing the needs and that creates an unbreakable cycle because in my own experience often times when we try to offer educational opportunities – and I’m speaking from my own experience here – to voters and say man you can’t come to me for a job because you have no skill here I’m going to help you to get a skill and to go , we don’t want people, just want the handout so it’s a grim outlook. I think education is key. There are some constituencies where the more educated the electorate the less you find the incidence of this and that may perhaps be the key. If there is one perhaps hopeful note is that not withstanding the entrenchment of this and Dylan has accurately and analytically outlined notwithstanding the intrenchment of clientelism there is hope because you might think you’re buying out these voters but they’ve become so cynical . I’ve been in elections where an obscene amount of money has been spent but the results go the next way the next election simply because they perceive that you’re doing the wrong thing and you can’t buy the vote so there is that element there that sometimes you just don’t know how the electorate. There is an inbuilt instinct about them where you ask yourself but how could the wipeout have been so thorough from north, south, east to west ? There is an instinct in people. They have their own internal compass and barometer and hopefully we can develop that.”