Women Watch in Election 2015

By: Ann Marie Williams

The 2015 General/National Elections have come and gone and as such have taken its rightful place in the annals of Belizean history. According to the Elections and Boundaries Department, the total number of registered electors as of September 2015, stood at 196,587. And of that number, only 142,900 voted (72.69%).
Despite the turnout, the elections were historic in more ways than one:

The United Democratic Party (UDP) won three unprecedented and consecutive elections since post independent Belize
The People’s United Party is the first party to suffer three consecutive defeats since post independent Belize
It is the first time that a father and son have been elected to the National Assembly (Said and Kareem Musa)
It is the first time that a third party has fielded so many candidates (The Belize Progressive Party, 25candidates).
It is the first time that both mass parties fielded four women candidates each and first time ever in Belize’s political history that a total of 11 women contested National Elections, four UDPs, four PUPs, two Belize Progressive Party candidates and one independent.
How did they fare?

The UDP women candidates namely; Carla Barnett of Freetown, Tracy Panton (Albert), Beverly Castillo (Belize Rural Central), and Guadalupe Magana Dyck of Orange Walk South all did very well being political novices.
The Fonseca/Barnett Effect:

Someone told me that Francis Fonseca will lose his Freetown seat because his party will make sure he loses. I told the person “I am certain that will not happen this time”. I went on to tell him that I have been studying the division and tracking trends over the years, ever since Derek Aikman first won in 1984 defeating then Prime Minister, the late George Price in what I feel still remains the biggest political upset in post independent Belize.

While politics is a social science and you can learn a lot from tracking social behaviour, a few anomalies still pop up from time to time but, this wasn’t going to be one of those times. It is a fact that it’s hard to unseat a party’s leader…the position wields huge amounts of power, much largesse have flowed to voters from that powerful stream plus, leaders are seen as mini gods in Belize and perhaps more importantly, the body politic is clear here; you don’t hit a ‘man’ when he’s down.

As a student of politics coupled with years of being a political analyst, I concluded prior to the elections that if Barnett had won, the UDP would have had a landslide…and it had little to do with her, and more to do with the mighty wind needed to have blown out the PUP leadership. This is not new. We saw it in 1998 when UDP Candidate and Party Leader, Manuel Esquivel lost to PUP Candidate Jose Coye in Caribbean Shores. The PUP had a landslide victory. That was the day the music died for the UDP. This massive defeat came after PUP gerrymandered Caribbean Shores in the early 1970s and Esquivel took an immediate foothold for 25 years, winning every election before he lost.

It happened again in 2008 and while Ralph Fonseca was not the party leader per se, he was close enough to have caused the UDP to win by a landslide when the mighty wind took him and he was defeated by Michael “Hutchy” Hutchinson in Belize Rural Central. Absolutely no one believed it…
The Women in Blue:

The PUP women never did so well when you compare each of them against their UDP counterpart… I submit that it’s largely because the blue women went up against stronger red competition in the various constituencies and they were not well financed as most of the ladies in red.
For example, Dorla Vaughan had Michael Finnegan, a political institution as her opponent. Finnegan won the last two general elections in Mesopotamia by 1,461 and 1,177 votes respectively. Yasmin Shoman lost in Collet, a predominantly blue division prior to incumbent Patrick Faber’s foray into politics in that area, which has the dubious distinction, twice over, of two candidates, one blue, one red winning by a single vote. Lesbia Guerra went up against another political institution, Erwin Contreras in Cayo West. And then there’s the womens’/children’s rights champion, Dolores Balderamos Garcia who was defeated by Beverly Castillo in her stomping grounds of Hattieville in the Rural Central Constituency. It was a nail-biter of a victory for Castillo who won by 58 votes. Noteworthy, is that Balderamos Garcia is a bit of an outlier because this is only her second time she stood for elections in Belize Rural Central. The first was in 2012 when she defeated Michael “Hutchy” Hutchinson (the UDPs David) by 204 votes. Balderamos Garcia found her early political victories in Port Loyola.
Like it is:

In 2012, two women were appointed as Senators and brought into the Cabinet with full ministerial responsibilities namely; Senator the Hon.A. Joy Grant and Lisel Alamilla. Today’s Cabinet has seen a marginal increase of one woman over 2012. She is Vanessa Retreage, the first woman Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs (she doesn’t have to be elected because of a change in the law). The two elected women representatives are both Deputy Ministers. Tracy Panton is the Minister-of-State in the Ministry of Economic Development, Investment, Trade and Commerce while Beverly Castillo, is the Minister-of-State in the Ministry of Immigration.

The Way Forward:
How do we keep the elected women and others interested in politics together for the long run…literally?
Well, the Organization of American States which served as election observer suggested in its recommendations that “efforts be made by all political parties and the government to continue to promote the participation of women in electoral competition and to create avenues to encourage the participation of youth at all levels of the political process, providing training programs and mentorship for women and young political leaders”.
The National Women’s Commission as part of its mandate to monitor the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2009 found it necessary to have prepared and socialized women for politics via the Women in Politics Project (WIP) in 2009 which has trained 98 women; some of whom have successfully stood for and are now serving at the Village Council and Municipal Levels. Punta Gorda, Mayor Fern Gutierrez and Dangriga Deputy Mayor, Earth Lopez are two WIP graduates. Newly elected Albert Representative, Tracy Panton is also a WIP graduate. The Women’s Issues Network (WIN-Belize) has also trained women in leadership who are currently serving in Town Councils.

The success of WIP has been incremental as expected however, the early investments have yielded much fruit and as a country it is imperative that we stay true to Sustainable Development Goal 5, which speaks to Gender Equality if, we’re serious about utilizing half of our country’s brain power for national development.

Ann-Marie Williams is an Award-Winning Journalist and Former Editor of the Reporter Newspaper.
She has served as political analyst for the last six General Elections and has written on election issues in Belize.
She is a British Chevening Scholar and a Hubert Humphrey Fellow with specializations in Gender & Development and Human Trafficking Policy and Law.

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