Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has today announced General Elections for 7 March 2012. In an official press release issued today by the Government Press Office Mr. Barrow who was elected to office for a five year term on 7 February 2008, stated that he had called on Governor General Sir Colville Young to dissolve the National Assembly on Friday February 3rd and set the date for Belize general elections one year before they are due. In his statement to the nation aired on all radio and television stations this morning Mr. Barrow said that as municipal elections are due on March 7th, he had decided to have General Elections on the same date to save resources and expenses. Under Belize law municipal elections are held every 3 years and General Elections every 5 years. The dates for municipal elections are set but the general elections can be called at any time with the prime minister giving 30 days notice.
Local observers have some months now been predicting early elections as the timing appears to be right for the ruling United Democratic Party. The opposition People’s United Party has been in disarray for some time now having undergone a change of leadership last year when party leader John Briceno stepped down. The UDP meanwhile has been facing economic challenges that can be expected to worsen as the country faces ballooning debt payments on its Super Bond payment schedule. While this debt was inherited from the previous government of the Peoples United Party, the current government further increased the country’s debt when it expropriated the telephone and electricity companies from British and Canadian investors last year. Court battles and the possibility of it having to pay compensation may have added to the urgency of holding elections before the economic climate worsens some observers believe. The full text of Prime Minister’s statement to the media follows:
“I have been proud and grateful to lead the United Democratic Party Government since February of 2008. And we have accomplished much in this first term. Acting always for the people and with the support of the people, our overall record is a stellar one. Economic growth has been consistent and we have recorded gains every year but one. This has been despite the continuing global crisis, despite the vagaries of nature, despite freak storms and hurricanes, and despite the super bond.
“We have given income tax relief to all employees on fixed salaries. And we have given GST and import duty relief to every single consumer. We have, for the first time in our nation’s history, chartered comprehensive pro-poor and pro- people programmes. These have included monthly cost-of-living allowances, subsidized food baskets, and cash transfers to thousands of families. We have awarded 300 dollar grants to first and second year high school students across the country; and educational opportunities have been expanded in unprecedented ways. We have built a record number of new classrooms, given a record number of scholarships, and we have excelled at creating second-chance, remedial, vocational, and apprenticeship initiatives.
“We have found resources to do new housing construction countrywide, and we have poured millions into home repairs and home improvement. In addition, we have written off almost fifteen thousand mortgages at the Ministry of Housing and the Social Security Board, allowing all those families burdened by repayment obligations to now own their homes free and clear. We have pushed infrastructure development in a way that has never been seen in Belize; and our roads and bridges network, especially in the South and North, has immeasurably improved as a consequence. The key to unlocking the foreign funding for all this, has of course been the fact that we have returned our homeland to credibility and honest stewardship.
“Our social justice and employment outreach, has also succeeded in attacking the root causes of crime in Belize; and has produced the gang truce and the signal reduction in the murder rate that we are so thankfully witnessing now.
“We have also enshrined nationalism as a paramount feature of our Constitution and our political culture. We have given the people control of their essential utilities. And as a result, everyone is now enjoying lower electricity rates, lower water rates and lower telephone rates. This, together with the restoration of integrity and accountability in governance, is perhaps the greatest jewel in the crown of UDP achievements.
“It is on this basis of all this that I come before you at this time. You, the people of this country, are our comfort and our strength. You enable and empower us. You are also our monitors and our judges. Politically we answer only to you. Still, the forces opposed to our nationalism and our social justice continue to fight. At home and abroad they assault our pro-poor and pro-people policies, and some of them claim to have you on their side. We reject that and know they are wrong. But as proof we want a clear reaffirmation now of the mandate for us to continue and expand our mission. We want you to arm us and support us so we can tell the world that there will be no turning back. That there will be no compromise of our political and Constitutional gains. That we will forge unwaveringly ahead in our crusade to produce development based on justice; based on greater social investment; based on a larger financial and economic space; based on equality of opportunity; based on a bigger safety net; and based always on lifting up those at the margins.
“We therefore ask for your clear instructions to drive the naysayers back; to do something about the super bond; to overhaul the tax code and further spur economic growth; to reform the public sector and make open vote workers part of the established staff; to roll out NHI countrywide in a sustainable manner; to eliminate financial uncompetitiveness; to lower interest rates and to establish a national bank; to rationalize the sugar and citrus industries for immediate viability and longer-term prosperity; and to realign existing ministries and create new ones in order to maximize efficiency.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you get the picture. We want both to consolidate and to strike out in new directions. We are confident that we have done well and have deserved your trust. But as we prepare to change gears and accelerate speed, there is only one way to know for sure. And that is to come back to you the people for your approval.
“Accordingly, I have today advised His Excellency the Governor General to dissolve the National Assembly with effect from this Friday, February 3. On that day, a writ will be issued appointing the 17th of February as nomination day, and fixing Wednesday, March 7, 2012 as the date for the next general election. We will thus have both the municipal and general election on the same day. Now elections in this country are always hard-fought, costly, and by their very nature divisive. Having the two in one will thus save the taxpayer money, and mean a single, quick healing process. Whoever wins can then get on straightaway with the business of binding up wounds and uniting our country; of governing in the best interest of all Belizeans; of continuing to meet the challenges of the unfavorable international climate.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, My Fellow Belizeans: I remind all of us that we have an enviable record for peaceful elections. I appeal to all political parties and candidates to ensure that we maintain that record. The Public Officers that will oversee the process are professionals, and will guarantee that, as always, the elections will be free and fair. Of course, we will also be inviting international observers to come and help make sure of the integrity of our balloting.
“As we prepare, then, to exercise once more this most sacred of all our political rights, the right to vote, I close by praying now, more than ever: God bless Belize!”