Belizean general election, 2003

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A legislative election was held in Belize on 5 March 2003. Belizeans elected 29 members to the House of Representatives for a term of five years.

The ruling People's United Party (PUP) won the largest share (22) of seats in the election.

Background[edit]

The PUP were seeking a second consecutive term in office after recording significant development in the economy from 1998 to 2003. Their opponents, the UDP, sought to replace them in office because of charges of corruption and mismanagement of public funds. Previous to this election, the parties had alternated their time in office since Independence.

As an aside, municipal elections had originally been called for this date, creating a situation of triple elections in one day, a first for the Caribbean region according to Myrtle Palacio of the EBD.

As a postscript, Cayo South winner Agripino Cawich Sr. died of illness in August 2003. UDP candidate John Saldivar, who had lost to Cawich in March, won the subsequent by-election over son Joaquin Cawich in October.

Dissolving the House[edit]

After what Prime Minister Said Musa called a "drawn-out" campaign that he said affected the country's ability to function, Musa called a house meeting on January 24, 2003[1] and formally announced that he had asked Governor General Sir Colville Young to dissolve the National Assembly of Belize by February 4, decree nomination of candidates for elections on February 17, and call elections on March 5.

Elections were called early; they had not been constitutionally due until at least November 2003. The Opposition UDP, led by attorney Dean Barrow and eager to recover from the disastrous 1998 campaign, declared themselves ready to battle. Governor General Young officially issued the proclamation dissolving the House on February 4,[2] as requested by Mr. Musa.

PUP preparations[edit]

The People's United Party had nominated candidates through much of 2001 and 2002. Among the more hotly contested races was Pickstock, where Attorney General and Senator Godfrey Smith defeated Bobby Usher of the PUP old guard. A number of other sitting members declared that they would not run again, including Jorge Espat in Freetown (relieved by Francis Fonseca) and Henry Canton in Stann Creek West (replaced by Rodwell Ferguson).

The PUP prepared a visually oriented campaign, stressing their accomplishments in office as the governing party and citing weak links in the UDP armor.

UDP preparations[edit]

The United Democratic Party's selection process was rife with controversy. In May 2002, Pickstock standard bearer and musician Kenny Morgan was removed[3] (he would eventually be replaced by Diane Haylock). Attorney Wilfred Elrington contested Pickstock independently after running into party officials over Haylock's appointment; brother Hubert, who had already left the party, likewise contested independently in Lake Independence against the sitting Cordel Hyde. Another bone of contention was Albert, where the UDP selected Marilyn Williams over Sydney Fuller. Fuller ran independently but Williams was herself the subject of investigation over allegations that she was a U.S. citizen and therefore ineligible to participate in the elections. Representatives in Lake Independence and Belize Rural Central were also replaced.[4]

Independent/third party preparations[edit]

This was the first election for the We the People Reform Movement, which put up candidates in Corozal, Orange Walk and Belize District. Independents appeared in all six districts. The election was tagged as featuring the highest number of independent candidates ever, including former UDP candidate Wilfred Elrington in Pickstock. Elrington finished second to winner Godfrey Smith but doubled up UDP choice Diane Haylock.

Election supervision[edit]

The elections were supervised by the Elections and Boundaries Department, headed by Chief Elections Officer Myrtle Palacio and her four person administrative staff. In preparation for the possibility of general elections and the certainty of municipal elections, the EBD had cleaned out their electoral rolls following the 1998 re-registration exercise, sought to boost voter confidence through the media, and trained fellow civil servants across the country to prepare for the rigorous test of conducting three separate elections in one day.

The EBD commanded 1,432 election workers, 567 municipal, 865 general. The workers were divided according to post: returning officer (in charge of the station and vote), election clerks and assistants, presiding officers (at each polling area), poll clerks and assistants, and counting clerks. Statutory Instruments Nos. 14 and 43 of 2003 respectively guaranteed voters the right to register up to February 10, 2003 in lieu of nomination day and allowed for more counting agents assigned to the general elections.

On election day itself, despite the usual early headaches, voting went smoothly. Palacio noted in her end of year report that no petitions for recounts were presented for any election. Nevertheless, The Guardian newspaper of March 16 saw an article written by then member of the Elections and Boundaries Commission and editor Herbert Panton, which criticized the electoral process. For more, see the Guardian article.

Media coverage[edit]

A number of media houses joined forces to cover wire-to-wire the events of March 5. Great Belize Television (Channel 5) announced a partnership with RSV Media Center, headlined by LOVE FM, on January 13, 2003.[5] Their coverage used the tagline "Decision 2003."

Later on, Tropical Vision Limited Channel 7 teamed up with fledgling Krem Television and Radio. Their coverage was nicknamed "The Moment" and used "Lose Yourself" by Eminem as its theme song.

Campaigning[edit]

The 2003 general election can be considered one of the most glitzy and packaged. The PUP ran a mostly upbeat campaign, focusing on celebrating the works achieved in its five years in office. The campaign was highlighted by the release of a CD of political campaign songs written by prominent Belizeans, particularly "Welcome to the Party" by Supa G. "Party" saw three translations and numerous airings over the course of two months of campaigning, invariably accompanied by PUP officials smiling and making contact with their constituents.[6]

The UDP chose substance over style in a realist campaign. Their commercials and statements attacked what they saw as latent corruption in the PUP's governing of the country. In February a broadside of scandals rocked the retiring administration, in sectors as varied as transport and education, and the UDP pushed every single one as an indication of the things the UDP would not tolerate if elected.[7]

We The People and other independent candidates stressed their belief that the system needed to change and that overall life needed to be improved for all Belizeans. The independents were not as heavily represented on the media but saw their opportunities as they came.[8]

Election day and aftermath[edit]

Election day began at 5:00 am for workers and 7:00 AM for voters. Voters participated from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM; counting began at 8:00 PM. Palacio reported that Pickstock's result, a victory for Godfrey Smith, was the first official result to come in, at 10:00 PM. By 12:45 AM Thursday morning, the PUP had amassed the majority fifteen seats,[9] and by 1:10 AM could start celebrating as the CEO stamped the particulars. While the UDP had regained 6% of votes over the 1998 results, the PUP still beat them 53-45.

Election results[edit]

e • d Summary of the 5 March 2003 Belize House of Representatives election results
Parties Votes % Seats
People's United Party 52,934 53.16 22
United Democratic Party 45,376 45.57 7
Independents 1,260 1.27 -
Total valid votes 99,570 100.00 29
Invalid votes 867 0.72 -
Total votes cast (Registered voters: 156,993; turnout: 77.18%) 121,168 100.00 31

Detailed General election results by constituency[edit]

Electoral Division Candidate Political Party # of Registered Voters Total Votes Cast  % of Registered Voters # of Votes  % of Votes
Caribbean Shores Jose Coye PUP 4023 3021 75.09% 1592 52.7%
Oscar Ayuso UDP 1429 47.3%
Freetown Francis Fonseca PUP 2510 1925 76.7% 1154 60.0%
Douglas Singh UDP 771 40.0%
Pickstock Godfrey Smith PUP 1987 1611 81.09% 899 55.8%
Wilfred Elrington Independent 439 27.3%
Diane Haylock UDP 252 15.6%
Fort George Said Musa PUP 2067 1546 74.8% 1173 76.6%
Carlos Walker UDP 320 20.9%
Francis Gegg Independent 38 2.5%
Lake Independence Cordel Hyde PUP 6176 4447 72.0% 2764 62.2%
Anthony Leslie UDP 1499 33.7%
Hubert Elrington Independent 88 2.0%
Patrick Rogers Independent 96 2.5%
Albert Mark Espat PUP 2286 1789 78.1% 1482 82.8%
Marilyn Williams UDP 253 14.1%
Sydney Fuller Independent 54 3.0%
Collet Patrick Faber UDP 2848 1892 66.4% 948 50.1%
Remijio Montejo PUP 889 47.0%
Paul Jones Independent 55 2.9%
Mesopotamia Michael Finnegan UDP 2178 1522 69.9% 1024 55.8%
Phillip Brackett PUP 953 44.2%
Queen's Square Dean Barrow UDP 2690 2156 80.2% 1203 55.8%
Richard Bradley PUP 953 44.2%
Port Loyola Anthony Martinez UDP 5798 4014 69.2% 2386 59.4%
Dolores Balderamos-García PUP 1565 38.9%
Belize Rural North Maxwell Samuels PUP 3341 2707 81.0 1447 53.5
Felix Sutherland UDP 1251 46.2%
Belize Rural Central Ralph Fonseca PUP 4543 3173 69.8% 2110 66.5%
Colin Gillett UDP 1063 33.5%
Belize Rural South Manuel Heredia UDP 3712 2993 80.6% 1539 51.4
Anna Patricia Arceo PUP 1430 47.8%
Orange Walk North Servulo Baeza PUP 5026 4324 86.0 2256 52.2
Phillip De La Fuente UDP 2040 47.2%
Orange Walk Central Johnny Briceno PUP 3396 2782 81.9% 1713 61.6
Miguel Urbina UDP 1050 37.7%
Orange Walk East Dave Burgos PUP 5486 4590 83.7% 2400 52.3%
Elodio Aragon UDP 2144 46.7%
Orange Walk South Ismael Cal PUP 5276 4675 88.6 2655 56.8%
Julian Padron UDP 1971 42.2%
Erwin Sanchez Independent 37 0.8%
Cayo North Ainslie Leslie PUP 6842 5672 82.9 2917 51.4%
Dean Williams UDP 2707 47.7%
Cayo South Agripino Cawich PUP 8344 6287 75.4 3111 49.5%
John Saldivar UDP 3087 49.1
Cayo West Erwin Contreras UDP 4656 4018 86.3 2180 54.3
Kendall Mendez PUP 1800 44.8
Cayo Central Mario Castellanos PUP 6022 4846 80.5 2438 50.3%
Rene Montero UDP 2260 46.6
Eduardo Juan Independent 63 1.3%
Ivan Roberts Independent 26 0.5%
Corozal North Valdemar Castillo PUP 5276 3491 66.2 1713 49.1
Nemencio Acosta UDP 1705 48.8%
Felipe Tzul Independent 56 1.6%
Corozal Southwest Gabriel Martinez UDP 3893 3473 89.2% 1835 52.8%
Gregorio Garcia PUP 1593 45.9%
Lucilo Teck Independent 20 0.6%
Corozal Bay Juan Vildo Marin PUP 5274 4058 76.9 2089 51.5%
Carlos Castillo UDP 1827 45.0
Roy Rodriguez Independent 86 2.1%
Corozal Southeast Florencio Marin PUP 4752 4194 88.3% 2155 51.4%
Servando Samos UDP 1930 46.0%
Hipolito Bautista Independent 62 1.5
Dangriga Sylvia Flores PUP 4254 2914 68.5 1527 52.4%
Russell Garcia UDP 1299 44.6
Ian Caliz Independent 44 1.5
Stann Creek West Rodwell Ferguson PUP 5718 4445 77.7 2486 55.9%
Glenford Eiley UDP 1895 42.6
Michael Flores Independent 30 0.7%
Toledo West Marcial Mes PUP 4908 4349 88.6 2368 54.5
Dennis Usher UDP 1940 44.6
Leonardo Acal Independent 21 0.5%
Toledo East Michael Espat PUP 4269 3325 77.9 1757 52.8
Eden Martinez UDP 1568 47.2%

References[edit]