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Mar 31, 2008

Briceño is new P.U.P. leader

Story PictureThe Peoples’ United Party tonight has a new leader. After an intense six week campaign that began with three candidates, and as recently as last week was down to one, a re-energised John Briceño edged out Francis Fonseca in a victory that could only be called an upset. News Five’s Janelle Chanona has the recap from Belmopan.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
On Sunday morning, men, women and children of the People’s United Party gathered at the Belmopan Civic Centre to elect a new leader.

Johnny Briceño, New P.U.P. Leader
“This victory is going to be the people’s victory and I am confident we will be able to be victorious at the end of the day.”

Francis Fonseca, Freetown Area Representative
“I’m very confident that we will be victorious and we can move on and get on with the important work of rebuilding our party and taking our new vision to the people of Belize.”

The internal battle for leadership had all the markings of the local political scene: music, food, banners, posters and t-shirts. While thousands showed up in support, only six hundred and fifty-three people were eligible to go to polls. But organising the voter pool proved difficult. Several people complained to us that while they were on the delegate list on Saturday night, when they showed up on Sunday morning, their names had been removed. The situation made for a long wait in line and several skirmishes at the screening desk.

Dan Silva, Cayo North
“Cera Cruz deh pan Cayo North list and they no want accept ah.”

Janelle Chanona
“You feel it’s deliberate that they don’t want her to vote?”

Dan Silva
“She deh pan the list.”

Marcello Williams, Stann Creek West
“Janelle, they are some people on that voter’s list from Stann Creek West. They were deliberately struck off the list about six of our voters from Stann Creek West, they struck them off the list deliberately when they came here this morning.”

Janelle Chanona
“Why?”

Marcello Williams, Stann Creek West
“This is because they thought that these people came here to support Johnny and they know that this election is probably going to be rigged. I am saying the people sitting there at the table, they deliberately are planning to rig this election so that Francis can win.”

The matter was finally resolved around noon, with sixty hundred and forty of the delegates accounted for.

Javier Gutierrez, Nominator, John Briceño
“We need a leader who will use our resources to restore a better way of life that includes education, healthcare and social justice. We need a leader who will allow democracy and transparency not one that will hide the truth from the people.”

Lisa Shoman, Nominator, Francis Fonseca
“Our party motto is serve the people and by his deeds, Francis Fonseca has served our country, our people and our party and he has never faltered, he has never failed in his duty.”

Francis Fonseca served as P.U.P. secretary general, party chairman and treasurer before entering electoral politics in the Freetown division in 2003. The politician’s bid for leadership had high profile backing from former leader George Price and party Public Relations Officer Yasser Musa. Those endorsements sealed the perception that Fonseca was the establishment’s pick for leadership.

On February seventh, John Briceño was elected to serve his fourth term as Orange Walk Central representative. Within the P.U.P., he had served as deputy party leader and deputy prime Minister under Said Musa. But his relationship with the party has been strained since October 31 when he attempted to resign. He actually followed through in August 2006 when as one of seven Ministers, he left Musa’s cabinet. Briceño further distanced himself from the party even during the leadership campaign when he withdrew from the race, citing a rigged election in favour of Fonseca. Briceño maintains that despite his back and forth pattern, his loyalty has always been to the party.

John Briceño
“For only when we understand what it means to be a P.U.P. that we will be able to rise from the ashes of political defeat and believe me, we shall rise again. We are all P.U.P.s. We are all equal P.U.P.s.”

Francis Fonseca
“The time for divisions, the time for divisions and tearing down each other is over. The message today, the message today must be one of hope, unity and work … working for meaningful change.”

Henry Charles Usher, P.U.P. Secretary General
“We will now proceed with the voting.”

And while the delegates cast their secret ballots, outside the respective candidate camps battled with their voices.

Early in the counting, Briceño took a big lead and at the end of the first box, was ahead 169-115. Fonseca bridged the gap in the second set of votes but Briceño was the first to reach the magic number of three hundred and twenty one.

The final tally showed a mere twenty count difference, three thirty to three ten.

Francis Fonseca
“My friends, congratulations to all of you for participating in this process and thank you for those who supported me and may we continue to work for Belize together as one P.U.P. family. P.U.P. all the way.”

John Briceño
“And now we must begin to make good on our promise that we will be back in Belmopan in five years time!”

Janelle Chanona
“But being the third leader of the P.U.P. will be anything but easy. Briceño’s challenge will be to unite a party divided by strong personalities, opposing perspectives and diverse politics.”

John Briceño
“The unity starts today as I said and I’m starting with Francis that I am offering him my friendship as always that he’ll be working with me, with Said Musa who we must also remember led us to some great victories over the past eleven, almost twelve years. I was with him in 1996 so we need to recognise the work that he has done and to all in the party. This party belongs to everybody. We need every single member; the forty-seven thousand plus that voted for us on the seventh of February plus the P.U.P.s that have left us, that have lost faith in us, we need to go back to them. We need to go back to the roots. We need to show them that this party is here to serve the people, social justice, creating opportunities especially for the poor people who needs help.”

Janelle Chanona
“So Deputy Leader you would offer Francis?”

John Briceño
“Well that is something that is not for me as a party leader to decide this on a convention but I want Francis beside me. I need Francis, the People’s United Party needs Francis.”

Francis Fonseca
“I’m prepared to work with John Briceño in any way that I can, any contribution that I can make to the future rebuilding of the People’s United Party I’m prepared to do, whatever that takes, whatever it means. What I have always said is that we can only have one party leader at a time. That is one of the problems we had over the last ten years, we had several people who wanted to be party leader while we had an elected party leader, we cannot have that anymore. So I’m hopeful that we can all unite behind John Briceño and take on the challenges we have in our party.”

Briceño will certainly have to exorcise the ghosts of his predecessor’s administration. And critics are already condemning him for putting long-time supporter Amalia Mai, who was a prominent player in the use of millions of dollars of public funds to settle a private debt, at the top of his delegate list.

There is also the issue of Mark Espat to contend with. The Albert representative and Lake I’s Cordel Hyde never showed at the convention but it is believed their delegates voted in favour of Briceño.

John Briceño
“First of all, I believe Mark has been a good P.U.P. He has worked very hard for this party. He has won his division and has helped us nationally. One of the first things that I want to do is that I want to ask that that review be stopped because I don’t think it is necessary.”

Janelle Chanona
“And his future role in the party?”

John Briceño
“I have been very clear about it that Mark Espat should continue playing a very important role in the affairs of our party.”

But on Sunday the mere mention of Espat’s name produced a mixed reaction from the P.U.P. crowd.

John Briceño
“To my friend Mark Espat, I also offer my thanks for always reminding us that we must do right by all manner of persons. Thank you, thank you, thank you very much.”

Yasser Musa, P.U.P. Public Relations Officer
“Every party has, by design, its divisions that is the nature of politics, people say it as if it’s something bad. That is the nature of life, families have divisions but the point is how do you reconcile those divisions and move forward and I believe after today, P.U.P. is on the road back. It’s not going to be easy, we can’t take it for granted, it’s going to take time. I believe the media will continue because it’s still swimming the cess pool of the past. It’s still swimming and when you come up for air you will realise that the people have already given its judgement.”

Janelle Chanona
“While this afternoon was about the election of a new leader, today’s events will factor greatly into the party’s efforts to redeem themselves in the eyes of the Belizean electorate and that first test will come in March 2009 at the municipal elections. Reporting from the Belmopan Civic Centre for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.”

The Belmopan Civic Centre was also the venue of the P.U.P.’s 1996 leadership convention won by Said Musa. George Price was elected leader of the P.U.P. in 1956 at Riverside Hall on North Front Street. According to Briceño, Magali Marin-Young and David Hoy have tendered their resignations as Senators and Rodwell Ferguson is expected to follow suit in the near future. Briceño says he plans to conduct consultation sessions to appoint new Senators that will be (quote) “more representative of the people”.

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