“Thank you Belize! You have renewed our mandate… the work continues.” These were the word of newly elect Hon. Dean Barrow who retains his seat in the Government of Belize for a second term. The new government was sworn in today, Friday, March 9, 2012, with the appointment of the Cabinet set for Tuesday, March 13.
In his address to the country he extended his hand to the leader of the opposition, society and the non-government organizations saying that he “wants to be accommodating” and that “The United Democratic Party government must be a government for all Belizeans”… “We hope that healing of the nation can begin.”
It was a tight race to victory for the UDP as the PUP showed much strength compared to the last elections in 2008; there were surprise wins and losses that came to just a handful of votes. In the southern part of the country, the People’s United Party (PUP) won all seats in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts while in the north the United Democratic Party (UDP) took five of eight seats.
A Peaceful Election Process for Belize
The Organization of American States (OAS) received high praise for the peaceful way its March 7 elections were conducted and for the strong presence of women during the political process.
The OAS sent an observation mission to the country to observe its General and Municipal Elections which had had 22 members of 13 countries visiting Belize to observe the elections.
“The ability of Belizean political parties to incorporate all of the nation’s diverse population should be commended as an exemplary practice for the region,” said the report.
Belize was also praised for the dedication and professionalism of over 3,000 polling officials who presided over the two simultaneous elections and ensured a smooth process throughout the day. However, even more pleasing to the observers was the presence of women in the process, functioning in various capacities including senators and as secretaries general to political parties.
Despite this, the mission expressed concern about the low number of female candidates in both electoral processes, which represented only 4% or three out of 74. Dolores Balderamos Garcia was the only elected woman representative; she along with Patty Arceo and Carolyn Trench Sandiford were the only women running for government and were fielded by the PUP.
Included in its list of recommendations was that greater efforts be made by both political parties and the government to encourage a greater participation by women in the election process.
The OAS mission observed the significant preparations made by the Elections and Boundaries Commission and the Election and Boundaries Department and said that, on the whole, this produced a clean and inclusive process. The mission particularly emphasized efforts to provide voters with timely information through its website, which was periodically updated in the days before the election.
Recommendations from OAS:
Based on the information gathered by the OAS Electoral Observation Mission during its time in Belize, the mission offered the following recommendations to further strengthen the Belizean electoral process:
The promotion of female participation throughout the electoral process
The OAS electoral observation mission recommends that efforts be made by both political parties and the government to promote the participation of women in electoral competition. In particular, the mission recommends the development of legal mechanisms to ensure women are incorporated on the ballot and the promotion of training programs for female political leaders. In this light, the fact that a woman was elected to parliament represents a positive step.
The Enactment of Campaign Finance Regulations
The Mission notes that political financing is unregulated in Belize. The current framework places no limits on campaign spending and does not require disclosure of campaign contributions or expenditures. In order to allow voters to make a more informed decision and to ensure more equity in electoral competition, the OAS recommends the development of campaign finance legislation that addresses these gaps.
Reduction of Electioneering in and around Polling Stations
The Mission recommends that the government and political parties take positive steps towards reducing the role and influence of party activists at voting centers, through more uniform enforcement of the 100 yard boundary around polling stations and through the enactment of stronger mechanisms to protect the ability of voters to vote without outside pressure or fear of reprisal as they exercise their voting rights.