Belize elections underway
Double elections in Belize today as voters turn out for national and municipal elections.
BELMOPAN, Belize, Wednesday March 7, 2012 – A tight race is expected between the incumbent United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP) in elections today (March 7) across Belize.
When polls opened this morning 178,054 voters were eligible to vote in general elections for 74 PUP, UDP, VIP, Belize Unity Alliance and Independent candidates in 31 constituencies at 320 polling stations; while for the municipal elections, 97,979 of those voters are eligible to vote for 170 candidates at 168 of those polling stations.
The vote will occur in a so-called “double election” format, meaning voters will first cast ballots in the general election and then in municipal elections to choose their parliamentary representatives, then mayors and town and city councilors.
These elections are the first in the country since 2008 when the Dean Barrow-led UDP rested power from the PUP, which had governed the country from 1998 to 2008. Now the Francis-Fonseca-led PUP is hoping for an upset and return to power but polls are not leaning that way.
The major issues this election is the economy, which was projected to have grown 2.5 percent in 2011 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America.
Also on voters’ minds is the question of debt service on Belize’s US$546.8 million bond locally called the “superbond.” Statements made by Barrow in February indicated that the country might be consider defaulting on the loan led US rating agency Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the country’s credit.
Indications were that voters were still undecided in a majority of divisions as to whom to send to the House of Representatives, but the UDP were narrowly favoured following a poll conducted by businessman Derek Aikman.
This second poll by Aikman held on March 2 showed a clear lead for the UDP, although more voters were willing to declare support for the opposition PUP in this new poll.
A total of 8,847 voters, or 4.97% of the voting population, participated. From a 15-point gap in the first poll, the UDP’s percentage lead is down to just four points, 30% to 26%, with 1% going to candidates of the Belize Unity Alliance (BUA) in Belize Rural South and Belmopan. However, 43% of the electorate, in a similar percentage to the previous poll, still say they have not decided for whom to vote.
In the first poll released on February 17, Nomination Day, the UDP theoretically held a majority of 16 seats, with the PUP holding just two and the thirteen others in a statistical dead heat.
After Friday, the PUP hold nine seats: Orange Walk Central, which they had won in the last poll; Fort George, Pickstock, Belize Rural South, Corozal Southeast, Corozal Bay, Cayo North, Cayo West, and Orange Walk North.
The UDP are ahead in Queen’s Square, Port Loyola, Caribbean Shores, Mesopotamia, Collet, Lake Independence, Corozal North, Belmopan, Cayo Northeast, Cayo Central, and Orange Walk South.
The remaining 11 seats that hold the balance of power are Albert, Freetown, Belize Rural North and Central, Dangriga and Stann Creek West, Toledo East and West, Corozal Southwest, Cayo South and Orange Walk East.
The vote will be monitored by an Organization of American States team headed by former US Ambassador to Honduras Frank Almaguer. The Organization of American States Electoral Observation Mission (OAS/EOM) will maintain presence in all six departments of Belize from the opening of the polls through the counting process.
The OAS/EOM in Belize is represented by observers from Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Martinique, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela.
Since its arrival in Belize on March 1, the OAS/EOM has conducted extensive interviews with electoral authorities, government officials, political party representatives, members of civil society and the media.