Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow says voters who have been required to be in self-isolation or have tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-1) ahead of the November 11 general elections, will not be allowed to vote.
“It can’t be permitted. If you are COVID positive, you are supposed to be in quarantine either at a government facility or at your own home. There’s no way we can get around that restriction which is a legal one, a mandatory one.
“And If we were to try to change the law to make arrangements to accommodate COVID positive persons who wish to vote, not only would it be I think, an extremely difficult logistical exercise, I suspect that the fears of those that are not positive, but who already have reservations or perhaps in two minds of whether they will exercise their franchise, those fears would become even more pronounced,” Barrow said.
The Elections and Boundaries Department had initially indicated that all persons who show up at the respective polling stations will be allowed to cast their ballot.
The main opposition People’s United Party (PUP) says it will be taking a position on that decision.
Section Five of Chapter Nine of the Representation of the People’s Act lists the qualifications that allow persons to vote in the elections. These include that the person must be a Belizean, a Commonwealth citizen residing in Belize for 12 months or more, must be 18-years and over. The Act also lists who is disqualified but is silent about any infectious diseases.
Belize is the latest Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country to be holding a general election during the COVID-19 pandemic, following St. Kitts-Nevis, Suriname, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. St. Vincent and the Grenadines will hold its general election on November 5.
Prime Minister Barrow, who is stepping down from active politics, told reporters that while it is extremely regrettable “that if you are COVID positive, in effect you are not able to exercise your franchise, we don’t see that it can be otherwise.
“Certainly proxies are out. It’s already a hugely complicated, nightmarish system to administer, the proxy system which currently exists in terms of public officers, in terms of the security forces and their needing to vote by proxy. I don’t see a trying to in fact extend that to COVID positive people. How do you verify? “That is completely out of the question. Now I understand the argument about the constitutional rights but remember no constitutional right is absolute. You can derogate from constitutional rights on an emergency basis that is why in the normal course, Belizeans have every right when they leave the country to come back in. We are saying no, you can’t except you comply with certain things or you go into quarantine. That is a derogation from what in pure form is their constitutional right,” Barrow told reporters.
Meanwhile, Barrow said that a negative COVID-19 test result presented upon arrival or determined following a rapid test at the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) will now free visitors and returning Belizeans from having to quarantine for a 10-day period.
Barrow said that the government has realized that the mounting number of persons affected by the disease locally is disproportionate to the number of persons arriving with negative results that are still required to self-isolate.
“It also struck us that since these people that are coming in via the PGIA, now that there is the reopening since they come either with a negative PCR test that’s no older than 72 hours or are tested at the airport and are only allowed to enter the country once they are negative; it’s inconsistent to say to them, “You need to quarantine for ten days” when there are masses and masses of untested Belizeans who are able to move freely about.
“It doesn’t make a great deal of practical sense to us and hence the decision to switch from what is supposed to be or what is currently mandatory, the breach of which is punishable by court action, we thought the time had now come for us to move away from that regime and to go to moral suasion and this ramping up, as I said, of this public relations campaign.”