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Jan 13, 2017

Referendum Act: will amendment pave way for I.C.J. resolution?

Wilfred Elrington

The House introduced six new Bills and read four others held over from the last meeting. The most important of them is the amendment to the Referendum Act, which proposes to lower the threshold for validity of a referendum to take the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ, from sixty percent of registered voters participating to a simple majority – fifty percent plus one. The Bill attracted much debate coming from the opposition side, which is not convinced this is the way to proceed. Government argues that the Bill is solely to fall in line with established democratic principles, but the Opposition argues that it gives more away to a country who that no longer respects Belizean boundaries and customs and has actively enforced control of the southern border the countries officially share. While the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington advanced the first view, former Prime Minister Said Musa suggested that a result of any referendum held under the current Act, as it stands, may not even be binding on the Government.

 

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“What we are doing with this amendment, is simply to make the law the same as it was, in the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and onward, when in fact we had taken the decision and enforced the decision to go to referendum. There was no contemplation that referendum would be anything other than the simple majority; that was always the contemplation. Recently, the United Kingdom went to referendum on the question of whether Scotland would secede from the British; was simple majority. The issue as to whether the British would move away from the European Union; was simple majority. Every advanced democracy in the world, when dealing with referendum, use the simple majority; and that is the norm when we have general elections.”

 

Said Musa

Said Musa, Area Representative, Fort George

“If we are going to talk about an amendment to the referendum Act, we should also amend the section that says we are only seeking the views of the Belizean people. As the Leader of the Opposition rightly pointed out, under the P.U.P. Referendum Act of 1999, we sought the approval of the Belizean people. (Applause) And we must go back to that, before we even talk about put anything to the Belizean people in a referendum; we must seek their approval. We need a binding referendum; we don’t want no “wishy-washy” views, like the Brexit in London where people are questioning now whether that is binding at all on the English people, the British people; we need a binding referendum that seeks the approval of the Belizean people, whether they vote yes, or they vote no, under that.”

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