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Apr 30, 1998

Elections And Boundaries Commission proposes guidelines for upcoming election

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Anticipation for the 1998 General Elections continues to build and the Elections and Boundaries Commission is taking steps well in advance to ensure that the playing field is a level one for the men and women who are in the race to Independence Hill. This morning the Commission summoned all the political parties and the media to its office on Mahogany Street for a public unveiling of some of the ground rules.

The meeting was called by the Elections and Boundaries Commission to present the political parties with a set of proposed guidelines for the upcoming General Elections. Chairman of the Commission Lionel Welch says the proposals, which include the introduction of a special seal for the ballot boxes and draft rules for special category voting, are intended to improve Belize’s electoral system.

Lionel Welch, Chairman, Election and Boundaries Commission

“We hope that a result of these proposals, that the general public would see that the electoral process and system is fair. We also hope that by this method, that with the presence of the media that they will know that everything done by the Commission is transparent.”

But it appears that the People’s United Party is having a difficult time believing that the Commission is capable of achieving that goal, in light of what the party chairman says have been continuous abuses.

Jorge Espat, Chairman, P.U.P.

“We have advocated for greater transparency and accountability in the entire process of re-registration. We got here this morning for a meeting with the Elections and Boundaries Commission, to be given a proposed statutory instrument where the government proposes now to do away with proxy and in fact set aside two days where Belizeans can vote. We do not take issue with creating and expanding rights for Belizeans to vote; we take issue with the management of their process.”

Lionel Welch

“I am not concerned about that. The Commission has persons of dignity, persons of honesty and once, for myself… Once you know that you have done something and make a decision and your conscience is clear you have nothing or nobody to fear. This is an election year and I expect that the Commission will come under criticism and I will no way be influenced by criticisms.”

While both parties fully endorsed the proposed code of conduct, the P.U.P. took strong issue with the idea of a special seal for the ballot boxes. The U.D.P. on the other hand says it’s a move in the right direction.

Jorge Espat

“We are always ready to improve the process but what they showed us this morning is certainly not going to solidify any confidence. Instead of having a padlock, they want now to put on a seal – a seal that can be easily replaced. We were given no assurance this morning in fact by one of the commissioners that in fact this new seal is going to lend absolute security to the ballot box. We have a right to express our concerns and we did that this morning by saying let us, in a spirit that will help Belize, sit down, consult so that there is consensus from the political parties and from the Belizean people; involve the civil society; involve the media; involve the police that we will not have to fear the result of the elections.”

Kenworth Tillett, Secretary General, U.D.P.

“Our party’s position is that basically we applaud any effort by the Elections and Boundaries Commission or anybody to improve the system. And as we can see it right now, the issue of the sealing of the ballot boxes to try to get some sort of assurance that we’ll have a seal – that if it is broken people will know that it’s been tampered with is an effort in the right direction. The physical security of the ballot box in my opinion is immaterial in that you have to have people there that can see to it that, you know, sleep with your own eye, as it may, to see to it that it’s not tampered with. Because if you have a key, somebody else can have a key and or they don’t even need a key in some cases. If you have a seal, it has to be broken. That is more an indication for what is happening so we applaud that effort.”

With regards to the draft rules for special category voting, Kenworth Tillett says his party believes it will work to the benefit of those it will govern.

Kenworth Tillett

“During the last Town Board Elections, we the United Democratic Party had suspected for a while that the Opposition and other people in power had abused the system. The fact that the Commission is trying to take steps to first of all facilitate those people who are deemed in that special category to make it easier for them to vote as opposed to handing their ballot to somebody and trusting in them that they would do it, we applaud that effort. We believe that the special category people are going to be served much better by this system as opposed to the poxy where they handed it off to somebody else.”

The Elections and Boundaries gave all the parties seven days in which to come up with written submissions on the three proposals made at this morning’s meeting. Patrick Jones, for News Five.

The proposals that were unveiled this morning are expected to form part of the discussion later tonight on “One on One” with Dickie Bradley. Dickie’s guest will be Elections and Boundaries Commission member Gadsby Ramos and the show airs at eight o’clock.

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