By Marion Ali
Lisa Shoman, who has been appointed again by the People’s United Party (PUP) to serve in the Senate, has indicated her intention to vie for leadership of the party, making history in Belize on a platform where no woman has ever before ventured.
Shoman made her interest in the position public in a Facebook comment last Friday, in which she suggested that “I told the Garifuna Collective today…that if I am EVER the PM of Belize, I would insist on walking in to the inaugural House Meeting and inspecting the Guard of Honour to their music.”
This was preceded by another Facebook post the day before in which the Senator stated: “..The notion that a woman is ready/viable/worthy to be the leader of either of the two current mass parties in Belize, is DEFINITELY an idea that is neither ridiculous or even particularly that far-fetched.”
She goes on: “It is not a joke. There is a plethora of talented women in Belize who could, with the right support, be the Party Leader of either the PUP or the UDP.”
In a conversation with the Reporter this week, Shoman said she wasn’t thinking about submitting her name, but was encouraged by the volumes of calls and text messages from people asking her to consider running for the position.
“Frankly at first I was resistant to the idea because the tradition has been, up to now, that the party leader should be the person who commands the most support in the House of Representatives. That is the same person who is the Leader of the Opposition. So at first, I really wasn’t inclined, but the more I spoke to persons, the more I thought about it”, she said.
But if the Senator’s entry were to result in a win for her as Party Leader, it would also mark one of the few occasions when the PUP leader did not rule by a victory at the polls. (The late PUP Leader Emeritus, George Price, continued on as Party Leader outside the National Assembly, even after he was defeated in the 1984 General Elections by Derek Aikman, while Florencio Marin Sr., became Leader of the Opposition).
Shoman explained that while, with this exception, the two positions have been filled in both mass political parties by whoever is the Leader of the Opposition, their roles are very different.
The Leader of the Opposition is the person, by law, who covers the majority support in the House. That is not an elected position, but as Shoman points out, is a position chosen by peers within the party’s current House Members.
The party leader, however, is elected by the PUP delegates from around the country who will attend the National Convention, hailing from all constituencies. Shoman said that the Constitution of the PUP makes it clear that the party leader is chosen at a party Convention, and there is nothing in the Constitution to exclude any party member from running for leadership.
“There is nothing preventing me from aspiring or running as a leader of the PUP. The only requirement is that my candidacy is presented by a unit of the party, and I am confident that I can get that support”, she indicated.
Shoman said she has spent quite a bit of time over the past 15 years engaging the leaders of the PUP and those who are aspiring to be the party leader. “They know both my character and my calibre. They know my interest – my devotion to the party, my work for the party. But as well, more importantly, they know that I care deeply about the development of Belize and the path Belize is taking.”
But are Belizeans ready for a female prime minister? Shoman said she believes it is time for a woman to step up to that level and for Belize to embrace the idea. In her conversation with the Reporter she also said: “I think Belizeans are ready, and those that are not, will, I think, be persuaded by performance only.
This is the right time to think of being party leader, when we are at a crossroads, one, as a political party, but also, when we have to prepare for the time period in which we will move towards being the government at some point.”
The PUP Senator explained that if she is elected as the PUP Leader, she would continue to serve as Senator and would work closely with the Leader of the Opposition.
“I have absolutely no problem with team work. I’ve always been a team player. I’ve always worked very closely with whoever the party leader has been, and I’ve put in 100 percent of my effort towards supporting and helping to shape the policies of the People’s United Party.”
Her election as leader would mean that she would ultimately have to vie for electoral office in a constituency, but she has not yet set hr sights on any particular division.
Shoman said she feels the PUP has an obligation to Belizeans to be the strongest party it possibly can be, not only because it is in opposition, but because it is one of the two mass parties in Belize and stands a good chance of forming the government. She said she also feels she can unify the party that has, over the last ten years, had its share of divisiveness.
Shoman, who holds prestigious decorations from Mexico and Nicaragua for distinguished service, has served the country at the highest levels under the 1998 – 2008 Said Musa administrations, as among other posts, Ambassador to the United States, Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States (OAS), High Commissioner to Canada, Senator and Foreign Affairs Minister. She has also served under PUP Party Leaders John Briceno and Francis Fonseca in 2009-2012 and ultimately as Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate from 2012-2015.
Shoman has indicated she will formally announce her candidacy early next week. She and all other candidates have until December 15th to submit their names into the race for PUP leader.