In just a few weeks Belizean voters will be going to the polls to elect a new House of Representatives. Both major political parties, along with third parties and independents are putting their slates together in the hope of getting into the National Assembly. PUP’s Party Leader, John Briceno says his party will be victorious but so has the Leader-Elect for the UDP, Patrick Faber. As they say, however, elections are won on election day. In speaking with Faber he is confident of areas such as Dangriga and Belize Rural South.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports: “There are some seats that are more of a struggle for us we concede and in fact there are some seats that we hold now that we see an uphill struggle with. I believe that we will win Dangriga quite easily. I think that well if you note the UDP’s history in Dangriga you will know that there is never a shortage of that kind of divisiveness on the normal but when it is election time we hug up and we know how to win. I see that happening. Papa Mena knows how to win, the mayor is onboard and all of those other factions if you will will come together nicely and win. It also helps that – well let me leave the PUP alone. You notice the kind of campaign that we’ve employed I’ve watched these ads on the news at night and the bulk of their ads are at attacking me and others, where they can’t attack me they attack who I associate with my colleagues and so on they run a very negative campaign, they are yet to really tell this nation in any kind of concrete way apart from their little shenanigans on the social media and so on which nobody really looks at it would seem to me they are yet to really be concrete but I say that because I think our candidates on the ground as I’ve said before stand a very good chance. In San Pedro while COVID has hit them very hard any representative hit with that kind of situation is under serious pressure but Manuel has done this before, he has weathered storms out there literally many times before and we see him as our champion there and the party gives him full support and I have no doubt in my mind that he will once again deliver that seat. You said which other one ? Belize Rural Central ? Again you can’t find a harder working representative than Beverly Williams. I don’t recall but who was it that ran against Bev the last time was it the same Dolores ?”
Reporter: It was not Dolores.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports: “Aha so that helps to make my point that it is Dolores and that is why people have developed a thinking about her candidacy long time. They made an attempt to reinstate confidence in her some time back and then that failed too so the people of Belize Rural Central in my view are all the more wiser. They see the kind of effort and I will say that genuinely Bev Williams works and works hard for the people in that constituency and I think that hard work will pay off ultimately for her and for the UDP.”
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic what was once the norm is now a distant memory. Elections will no longer see the hundreds and thousands of supporters jumping up along the streets and thoroughfares around the country. The social gatherings are a no-no for now and every event including the upcoming general elections are planned with social distancing and sanitizers in mind. For the United Democratic Party there is a strategy in place but there are also some bumps along the way. Here is Love News’ Renee Trujillo with the story.
Belize’s general elections are five weeks away. The date November 11 was announced on October 5 with October 6 see the dissolution of the National Assembly with the countdown in full effect the media sat with the you UDP’s party leader elect Patrick Faber to find out first hand how he is gauging the election outcome.
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “Winning a fourth consecutive term is much more difficult than winning a first or repeat turn, but you know what I have seen and understood from the electorate out there is that people don’t see the PUP as a viable option. There might be to an extent the impression being painted that “Hey we want somebody new.” but they don’t see the PUP as an option and they know the UDP functions. Apart from the little fatigue that some will have “Oh you’ve been in power forever.” Once you can get over that the UDP continues to be the best option for people and while the PUP tries to paint this picture otherwise pound-for-pound, man for man, woman for woman on the ground the UDP has better candidates, the UDP has better machinery and there’s no doubt in my mind that the victory will come.”
Reporter: A win for the UDP may not be as easy as a previous year is considering several factors that could possibly throw a wrench in their anticipation of a win. Among those factors is the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has caused the Election and Boundaries Department to adjust the voting process as well as the traditional rules including the hundred yard line and the polling stations. At this point with no clear indication of whether those in covid-19 quarantine will be able to vote the vying parties are looking at a loss of about 800 votes on average.
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “I suspect that there will be a lower turn out as a result of COVID. Naturally there are people who- well first of all there are if what the numbers are now is any indicator we will have anywhere from five to eight hundred people who are of voting age who would not be allowed to vote so that immediately cuts numbers. From a party’s perspective we are trying to ensure that our proposals for safety are being suggested to the Elections and Boundaries Commission. We have great concerns about ensuring that that process is safe.”
Reporter: With over 180,000 registered voters around the country there is a lot of ground to cover. Social distancing has hampered the traditional ways of reaching out to the electorate and as Faber noted it has prompted creativity and appreciation for technology.
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “In a way it is not what we’re used to but it allows for innovation and it allows for saving time in many instances we don’t have to physically travel the roads of the country that much. There some situations that I have had to go personally and in a physical capacity to meet face to face with individuals where the situation warranted it but we are making sure that we cover all the bases nonetheless. In constituencies where they are more intune for a longer time with what is happening with the voters especially my own constituency a lot of the communication is done by me personally via text messaging or phone calls because I have that relationship with them already so it is just a matter of connecting at this time and ensuring that they know that the elections are coming, that I am there for them in terms of their needs in my own constituency I mean and I suppose others do these same, to stay connected with the voter and to make sure that we get them out on election day. That is the name of the game now. It’s not an easy task, it’s going to be very very difficult it might be even more costly in terms of logistics because much more has to be done for instance vehicles cars on that day you have to put more vehicles because you can put less people now in a car as a result of the social distancing practices.”
Reporter: Perhaps one of the silver linings to the new methods of campaigning is the decrease in expenses. In previous election seasons the streets and posts would be covered with banners, flags and billboards as part of the visual campaigns for participating groups. This time around there is no budget for the accessories and the free beers that political parties would offer the voters at rallies is now a thing of the past. As we mentioned all this is perhaps the silver lining. Faber however disagrees and stated that in some cases the cost is even greater. He made reference to the cost of his official swearing in tomorrow evening as the UDP’s party leader.
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “When it comes to carrying out these actions, the events that we’re having, it costs a pretty penny in terms of the media you should know we’re paying a handsome sum to Channel 7 for airing of our launch tomorrow so where we’re able to save in some areas the expenses mount in others. There are several of my colleagues in the party who have made a conscious decision not to spend all this money on paraphernalia for elections. We’ve made a small investment in t-shirts not to the tune that we would normally do and rather than put all that money into all of that we are helping our people with food packages across the country.”
Reporter: The United Democratic Party and the People’s United Party are the only two entities presenting thirty one candidates for the elections. The Belize Progressive Party is floating eight candidates. These are coupled with several independent candidates in various divisions. The date for the General Election is set for November 11. The polls open at 7am and closes at 6pm. Nomination day will be on October 21.
A win for the United Democratic Party will see Patrick Faber as the Prime Minister providing he brings in the Collet Division this next election. Faber and his government, if installed in Belmopan, will have major hurdles to climb; financial hurdles that is. The country is broke and its loan facilities and GDP is unprecedented, leading to a bleeding economy. With all that said, it begs the question, ‘who would want to take over the country in its present state?’ Faber expressed his views on the situation including subjects such as retrenchment, salary cuts and other unfathomable solutions.
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “Well since you used that word retrench I heard my friend the Leader of the Opposition say the UDP is the party of retrenchment but as far as I know under the thirteen years of leadership of our current party leader and Prime Minister which I have been a proud part of there’s been no retrenchment, there’s been no cutting of increments in fact there have been numerous salary adjustments so that argument is shot. But you’re right it’s going to be very difficult waters ahead and the current path may well be unsustainable and great change needs to happen but that change in my view can be managed. If it is we feel, as is evidently the case with so many who have assessed the situation ,that we have lets say too many government workers well the way to do that is to try to shift some from the public sector to the private sector but that has to be planned and so our efforts to recover after COVID but even now that COVID doesn’t seem to be subsiding there has to be a recovery plan simultaneous with COVID still flexing that will see job creation and hopefully we’ll see some of that transitioning from the public to the private sector if that is what is determined to be the need when we assess the situation but you are right it is a situation who all who looks at it says this thing is not something that we can sustain and I would be disingenuous to you if I said that we can continue to go down this path irresponsibly. It might not be the best move to make right off I think consultation with all the stakeholders, the workers unions in particular would be key to the whole thing. I think people who understand the true plight of the situation will be willing to flex and bend and to give and once we do that we can certainly find a way out of all of this together.”
Reporter: Should public officers expect their annual increments next year?
Patrick Faber, Leader Elect, United Democratic Party: “Well that to me is something to be determined. It all depends but as it is right now it is suspended as you know and things don’t seem to be getting much better and foregoing increments was an option that was accepted I think by and large, some difficulty but accepted nonetheless and if what is guaranteed now which is the full salary can be maintained at least for the short term until we can get to an understanding then I don’t see why some further acceptance on the part of public servants and teachers to continue to make the sacrifice for the sake of the nation would be so difficult.”