Softly, softly, but with devastating result, the People’s United Party under leader John Briceño upset the balance of power in last Wednesday’s municipal elections, winning Belize City, Orange Walk and Corozal Towns

A low voter turnout, the thing the UDP incumbents dreaded most, was responsible for the loss in Belize City, and swing votes contributed to the loss of Corozal. The UDP was able to hold on to six municipalities: San Ignacio & Santa Elena, Benque Viejo del Carmen, Belmopan, San Pedro, Dangriga and PG. But the party lost two of its golden plums when it lost Belize City, and Corozal Town.

A dispute has erupted over San Pedro because the number of ballots cast, does not tally with the number of ballot papers issued. There are 169 returns in excess of the official ballot papers which were issued to voters.

It was not only the swing votes that caused the upset. The UDP was unable to persuade its supporters to come out and vote in Belize City. The statistics tell the story: 42 percent voter turnout in Belize City, compared with 57 percent for the rest of the country.

Wednesday’s elections were expected to be a local government affair with the focus on domestic issues like water, sanitation, streets and drains. But it quickly assumed a larger role, bringing into play things like unemployment, inflation, distress over the crime situation and a growing feeling that the UDP has had its fair share of innings during three terms.

The strategy of the government was to take the municipals and then go on to win a fourth term as the Central Government. It failed because the mood of the country changed. Voters developed concerns about giving a fourth term to the UDP. The scandals which started with reports of immigration fraud, involving Minister Elvin Penner, became a festering wound with the evidence of land manipulation which were attributed to the Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega.

Instead of condemning these atrocities, Prime Minister Dean Barrow procrastinated, hoping perhaps that the scandals would blow over. It did not, and the Vega saga still stinks!

The economic woes brought on by the nationalization of Belize Telemedia Limited also weighed heavily on the minds of voters. When the Barrow Government moved to nationalize Belize Telemedia Limited, it triggered the booby traps which the Ashcroft Group had set in place with the help of the Musa government. These included heavy and unnecessary indebtedness of the company to an Ashcroft-owned bank and pre-nuptial arrangements for arbitration to be conducted abroad in case of disputes.

The combination of hard times and the radicalization of street gangs at home and pressure from the Ashcroft Group abroad has been too much for Belize City. The change of mood has been growing, but the swiftness of its arrival has caught many by surprise.

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