By Marion Ali
The People’s United Party (PUP), has set Sunday, January 31st as the date for its National Convention to select a leader who will reconfigure, unite and lead the party into the next General Elections.
The decision was made on Wednesday at the PUP’s headquarters during its first National Executive meeting since last week’s defeat at the polls. The meeting was preceded by a farewell luncheon for outgoing leader, Francis Fonseca, who while comfortably beating the United Democratic Party’s (UDP) Dr. Carla Barnett during last week’s General Elections, lost 19 seats to 12.
There have been no official submissions for leader yet, but the deadline is not until December 15th. Already, however, within media circles, particularly social media outlets, four names have been suggested as potential candidates: former leader John Briceno, who won in Orange Walk Central; newcomer Kareem Musa, who beat the UDP Belize City Mayor Darrel Bradley at the polls; Cordel Hyde, who beat the UDP’s Mark King in Lake Independence; and the party’s Deputy Leader Julius Espat, who walloped the UDP’s Ralph Huang in Cayo South.
Espat, however, told the Reporter that he has no intention to vie for leadership because he feels he has to spend a lot more time with the people in Cayo South. “I think the people of Cayo South have really put in a lot of energy and they deserve it. I think this time I need to spend a lot more time with them and fight their issues, which are really important issues.”
Cordel Hyde told reporters on Wednesday that he is seriously considering entering the race, but that his approach to leading a party that is financially strapped for cash into victory would be to look at the opportunities rather than the challenges. “For a young boy that used to walk barefooted on Sarstoon Street in Lake Independence it is an unlikely journey. So I’m very humbled and I take it seriously…Winning elections is not rocket science really. It’s about hard work. It’s about grinding…it’s about coming up with policies and programs that will affect positively the vast majority of the people and not some.”
But Hyde admits that the PUP, because of its past, has to undergo reform if it expects anyone to consider it as a viable option next time at the polls. The PUP must return to its social justice roots, he believes, and it must listen to the people. “The party has failed over the last 12 years. All those elections to really convince people that we are new, that we are different, that we have reformed, that we have returned to our social justice roots. That has to be the primary preoccupation of the party. The truth of the matter is that for all the terms that the ruling party has been government, the living standards of the people have not changed. The truth of the matter is that many people can’t pay their bills. Many people can’t send their children to school. Many people are living in sub-standard conditions. Many people’s kids are going to bed hungry at night. It’s really a difficult situation, and so we have to listen to the message from the people.”
Julius Espat had supportive words for Hyde, saying, “He (Hyde) has proven himself as a capable leader in his constituency. It is now a matter of him convincing the rest of the nation that he can do it, but I think he has talent and definitely he’s a good name to be able to consider.”
Hyde would be the first black man since Leigh Richardson (1953 – 1956) to lead “the grand old party”, if he enters and wins. He also hails from the south side, which would also be a first, if he becomes the leader. Hyde’s support for leadership on social media networks and the morning talk shows transcends boundary lines and district lines because his background as a grassroots man is something that resonates with many people who believe that the PUP, condemned in the past for squandering public funds and making poor financial decisions, needs an overhauling of sorts.
Kareem Musa, the son of former PUP Prime Minister Said Musa, said his first priority is to serve his Caribbean Shores constituents. He did not shrug off the possibility of running for leader, however, saying there is still time to consider bidding for the post. “I was just hired one week ago to be the Area Representative. It’s a job I take very seriously and that is my sole objective at this time…The putting the hat into the ring business doesn’t start until December fifteenth, so there’s still time to consider that…I’m not rejecting. You never say never in politics. I’ve learned that you never say never. But at the same time my focus right now is on Caribbean Shores.”
Musa told the Reporter, “I believe in doing good and seeing the good in people. Francis and my father did wonderful things for this country while leaders of the PUP. I choose to focus on the good things that have been accomplished and on the growth and development of Belize.”
Musa became popular for his stance against corruption when in 2013 and 2014, he offered his legal services free of charge to the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) in its historic private prosecution of former UDP Minister of State in Immigration Elvin Penner on passport and visa fraud charges.
John Briceno, who led the PUP from 2008 – 2011 after the party suffered an overwhelming defeat at the polls under the Musa administration, resigned that post on grounds that the party was financially broke and was not getting the support he felt it should have been getting from senior members who had served as ministers during the PUP reign. Briceno now believes that his experience as past leader can help to propel him back in that seat.
Briceno made news in 2013 when a taped audio recording of him calling out PUP “millionaires” who had benefited from their term in office was “leaked” to the media, as well as a private conservation he had with a confidant was also recorded and circulated in the media, in which he spoke of the ills if his party at the time.
The leader will be chosen by delegates chosen by each constituency, based on the amount of votes that each candidate garnered at last week’s polls. Aside from that, the party leader has other delegates and there are other organs of the party that have delegates who will also vote for a leader at the Convention. Espat said there will be around 2,800 delegates from throughout the country who will select the party’s new leader.
The task leading up to January 31st for prospects is to be able to travel the country to garner support for their bid as leader. But that will be the easiest part, says Espat, who thinks that the biggest challenge for any leader that emerges will be to unite the PUP: “It doesn’t really matter which leader emerges, if that leader does not have the ability to unite the party we will go nowhere. If that leader does not have the will power and the work ethic to do what is necessary, we will go nowhere, and if that leader does not intend to re-organize the party, we will go nowhere. It’s not just putting a badge on your shoulder. Right now its about soul-searching and figuring out a formula that will allow us to win the next General Elections.”