On January 31st, 2793 delegates from 31 constituencies, plus special delegates appointed from each of the Party’s arms and committees, will assemble at the Belmopan Comprehensive School to select a new leader of the People’s United Party (PUP). One of three men – Francis Fonseca, John Briceno or Cordel Hyde – will emerge to lead the battered Party, selected by the largest number of delegates ever assembled at a National Convention.
But on February 1st, the PUP may emerge from that Convention as fragmented as it has been since pre-2008, perhaps more so. The troubles which have plagued the once ‘grand ole party’, now just a shadow of its former self, will still be very much in evidence. Divisions sowed among supporters in the run up to the Convention, on social media and on the ground, have forecast dire days ahead for a mass party that has seen much more than its share of woes. Can the PUP survive its greatest enemy to date…itself?
The gaping canyon which divides factions of the PUP started as a small crack in 2004, with a movement called the G7.
Seven sitting Ministers, including then Deputy Prime Minister John Briceno, resigned from Cabinet in protest of financial decisions and moves being orchestrated by the powerful Minister of Finance, Ralph Fonseca and Prime Minister Said Musa.
The rebellion was quelled almost immediately, but the bitterness between the Musa/Fonseca camp and the Briceno camp was alive and vibrant.
The PUP took a devastating blow in 2008, retaining only three seats. From there it was on to a leadership Convention, where John Briceno, supported then by Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde, defeated Francis Fonseca, who was supported openly by Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca. Any words of unity spoken at that Convention were shown to be a farce. Briceno’s leadership was characterised by infighting. The Musa/Fonseca faction launched a newspaper, the National Perspective, which they used to attack Briceno and those around him. That faction also used their considerable influence to stave off financial support to Briceno, and in 2011, Briceno stepped down. He cited illness, but those close to him, and certainly those in the Musa/Fonseca faction, knew the truth. He had been pushed out.
Following a period of instability, Francis Fonseca was pushed by the Musa/Fonseca faction into the post of Party Leader, just in time for the General Elections of 2012. The PUP lost narrowly 17-14. Fonseca of course took credit for bridging what had been a monstrous electoral gap in 2008. Three years of work and money, which Briceno pumped into the dying Party, in tatters after the 2008 defeat, were disregarded. And the bitterness between the factions thrived and grew stronger.
The PUP has lost every election since, starting with 2008. While Village Council elections are officially not political, they are, and the PUP lost those too..
The PUP also lost the municipal and general elections of 2012, and two by-elections earlier in 2015, as well as last year’s municipal and general elections.
In the 2012 municipal elections the PUP held on to three municipalities. In the 2015 municipal elections the Party was only able to hold on to one municipality, Orange Walk.
In the 2012 general elections, the margin was UDP 17 – PUP 14. After the 2015 general elections the margin is UDP 19 – PUP 12.
Today that crack has become a canyon which will be dificult to cross. Francis Fonseca announced his departure as Party Leader on November 5th. But shortly after Briceno indicated that he would run for leader, Francis Fonseca put in his appearance again.
The Musa/Fonseca faction (Ralph Fonseca is still very much a power player in the PUP). unwillingly to cede power to Briceno. They blame him for the G7revolt, the 2008 loss and f or all the indignities they have suffered as a result of public scrutiny.
On January 31st, if Fonseca is victorious, it is likely that we will see the departure of Briceno and others who have determined they are not willing to serve under this particular version of the PUP.
If Briceno wins, he will likely repeat the scenario of 2008-2011, when the Musa/Fonseca faction did everything in its power to undermine his leadership and get him outta there. The only relatively predictable scenario comes into play if Cordel Hyde emerges victorious.
With that said, the battle is on. But in this battle, the winner will not necessarily be the winner, and the PUP may not be able to survive another period of instability and turmoil.