Prime Minister of Belize Dean Barrow says the general elections will proceed as scheduled on Wednesday even as the country continues to mop up following the passage of Tropical Storm Eta over the past 48 hours.
Thousands of persons in the western corridor, as well as parts of the south, have been affected by the severe floods brought about by the outer bands of Eta and Prime Minister said postponing the elections would have required approval from the leaders of the two main political parties but that in his opinion the elections will be carried out on November 11 since there is nothing in the Belize Constitution that speaks to a deferral.
“There is nothing expressly provided for in the Constitution that contemplates any possibility of that happening. Of course, nothing is beyond doing if circumstances warrant. In other words, if we had had a category five hurricane and everything had been destroyed then we would not have been able to hold a general election.
“And so, if it were to have been the decision that these circumstances are so dire as to necessitate at least the contemplation of some kind of a postponement, presumably a way could have been found. I don’t see that it really arises, but because there are those who have made the suggestions in a public fashion
“Let me say that if that discussion is even to be entertained, it is a discussion that would have to take place between the Honourable Patrick Faber, the leader of the United Democratic Party, and the Honourable John Briceño, the leader of the People’s United Party,” said Barrow, who has already announced his retirement from active politics.
Barrow told reporters that he is “convinced” that he is leaving “Belizean democracy stronger than I found it and I can think of several reasons for making that case, but I will highlight just two.
“One is the absolute strength, the searching journalism of Belize’s press corps, the fearless manner in which you have confronted politicians of all stripes.
“You have shone a light on politics and politicians and there are times when you have done so in a manner that I didn’t think comported entirely with fair play, but when everything is added up in the balance there is no doubt that the role you have played has become super-sized over these last twelve years and that it is a role that has contributed immensely to the maturing of democracy in this great country of ours, I thank you,” Barrow said.
The UDP is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive term in office. In the 2015 general election, the party won 19 out of the 31 seats in the Parliament.
Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai says that the Elections and Boundaries Department has been working very closely with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) in monitoring the flood situation in the country.
“The flooding situation is something that we are monitoring very closely. We know that we are having challenges in some of our polling stations which quite possibly those might have to be relocated. If persons are able to get to their polling stations to vote this coming Wednesday and so this is something that we are presently working on and as the day progresses, you know, things change as we go along,” she said.
“So we might have recommendations for changes at this time. In the next couple hours we have to look at making recommendations for other changes to be made if those are necessary at this point in time. Because as much as we going into election we want to ensure that we have the safety of the public officers and also safety of the voters in terms of those persons getting out to cast their votes,” she added.
Tamai said that there is also the possibility that at least eight polling stations may be used as shelters and that she has been in communication with NEMO on the issue.
Meanwhile, Police Commissioner, Chester Williams says the police will ensure that everyone keeps to the 9.00 am (local time) curfew that has been imposed here as part of the efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic.
“We also have the fact that we are going to have a curfew on election night and again the police will enforce the curfew regulation. But at the same time, as I said, before there are certain categories of persons who must be allowed to move around during the curfew hours.
“Those persons who are involved in the election process, the public officers, they will be allowed to move around. You have the observers, a number of observers in the country, I think around sixty from different parts of the world who are here to witness our election process, and they too will be allowed to move around.
“We will also have the candidate and an agent or two of theirs who may need to act on their behalf and check on situations at different counting stations during the curfew hours and they too will be allowed to move around. And then we have the media, they too will be allowed to move around. We advise that different media house give tags to their agents in the different parts of the country so that they will be able to be identified by the police. With that, I don’t foresee, difficulty. I have said before, if hypothetically, if at nine o’clock there are persons still on the line to vote, they will be allowed to vote and go home unimpeded by the police,’ Williams said.
Williams also indicated that the police will be on patrol to ensure that the election process goes smoothly.
“As you would know the police would be at the different polling stations and counting stations. At the polling station, the police are just there to enforce law and order and they act on the directive of the presiding officer. At the counting stations the police will be there for law and order prevails and they act on the order of the presiding officer.
“But separate and apart from being engaged in the election process, we do have law and order still as a primary function of the police in terms of ensuring that people don’t use the opportunity to commit crime particularly in Belize City where we have the gang-ridden areas of Belize City and other areas of the country all with a view that persons who are going to different polling stations to cast their votes can do so without being targeted by rivalling gangs or groups,” he said.
“Our duty is to ensure that the process goes through peacefully and we intend to carry through to that obligation this year. We do not anticipate any civil disobedience at all during this time but at the end of the day, we still remain vigilant in the event that any person or group may want to create any civil disobedience.
“So, our officers are ready and we wait for Wednesday to come and go and hopefully some of the stress can be placed behind us as we move on.,” the Commissioner added.