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Jan 30, 2008

It’s Godfrey versus Sedi in Pickstock

Story PictureIt’s a constituency that’s never gone anything but blue … but that hasn’t stopped the two candidates from campaigning as if the election could hinge on a single vote. And guess what? In 2008 anything’s possible. News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports from the Pickstock Division.

Godfrey Smith, P.U.P. Candidate, Pickstock
“I think I have established a reputation as a man who tries to help as many people as possible and that’s what I’m banking on on election day.”

Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, U.D.P. Candidate, Pickstock
“I think that I have a direct affinity with the people, there’s a chemistry, has to be a chemistry between myself and the people in Pickstock.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
In the last days of the 2008 general elections campaign, both candidates in the Pickstock division are confident of victory.

Incumbent Godfrey Smith is representing the People’s United Party, which has never lost the Pickstock seat. Gwen Lizarraga started in seventy-four, followed by Jane Usher 1979. Usher was the only P.U.P. to win in Belize City in 1984 and five years later she passed Pickstock to her brother, George Price after his defeat to Derek Aikman. Price held on in 1998 and then the constituency was claimed by Smith who emerged the victor in a bitter convention fought with Price’s nephew, Bobby Usher. Today Smith is confident he’ll be back for a second term.

Godfrey Smith
“My strategy has been from day one is to hit the ground running and to not wait until last minute to help people. So I have approached my constituency, asking myself what is my job as a representative and to answer that I ask myself what is my job as head of my own family. And that is to put a roof over my family’s head, it’s to make sure my kids go to school, it’s to provide healthcare and if there are older folk in the family, it’s to deal with that and to try to provide jobs. So I have approached my constituency the same way.”

“I believe I’ve worked hard, I’m confident that I’ve put in tremendous amount of work in helping people with the basics, care for the elderly, schooling, health and housing, and other things as well.”

Sedi Elrington was born and raised in Pickstock division and works out of his law firm on North Front Street. As one of fourteen children, he also considers himself a family man and in tune with voters’ needs.

Wilfred Elrington
“Proper food, proper education, proper health facilities and recreational opportunities, that is all they ask for but that has been withheld from them for so many years. I mean it’s a terrible situation when you go in the division. People are just so deprived of those things that one considers to be so basic.”

Despite the constituency’s history, Elrington is considered one of the U.D.P.’s stronger candidates in Belize City. But his relationship with the party has been rocky. In 2003, he broke away to run independently and wound up beating then U.D.P. standard bearer Diane Haylock by almost two hundred votes. He’s returned to the fold but Elrington is persistently plagued by rumours that he and party leader Dean Barrow are constantly at odds. Sedi says it’s only that he’s always eager to share his ideas.

Wilfred Elrington
“That is always a healthy thing but too few Belizeans engage in it, you know what I mean. So he doesn’t see me certainly as a rebel, he understands and appreciates what we are doing but other people who are naturally inhibited might come up with a different view but he and I have no real difference on anything.”

Part of Elrington’s campaign has included the allegation that the P.U.P. area representative is simply buying votes.

Wilfred Elrington
“Whenever anyone comes to me for assistance…after asking them their names…almost the very first thing I ask them is, can I give you a job? I prefer to find a job to give them than just to take out a few dollars and give it to them. I don’t think it helps people to give them a handout. I don’t think that that helps you at all, as a matter of fact, I believe that has what has kept so many people in Belize City so dependent and so almost helpless.”

Godfrey Smith
“But my understanding is that he’s out spending me in the streets but he has not done anything for the division, he’s ran three times and lost three times, he has no track record of doing anything and I have a track record of doing things for my people but the irony is that’s his slogan but yet he’s outspending me on the streets.”

Despite a recent redistricting exercise, Pickstock is still one of the smallest constituencies in the country with some thirty three hundred voters. With the change has come the distinction that Pickstock is the only division to straddle the Haulover Creek, connecting northside and southside. Smith says he’s taken the enlarged electorate in stride.

Godfrey Smith
“My approach has always been to spread as widely as possible, helping as many people as possible but when crunch time comes, you have to focus on the people who you believe you’ve identified as being supportive of you and your program and then to get them out on election day.”

In contrast, Elrington says he’s had more time to be in the homes and now that portions of Lake Independence are now Pickstock, his brother Hubert’s reputation, who served as that area’s representative between 1993 and ’98, will pay off in his favour.

Wilfred Elrington
“So it was simply a question of walking the division, meeting the people, talking to them. They are no different from the people over this side. And my workers, especially during this campaign time, it has been amazing but everyone has welcomed us in the home.”

“Another factor that has helped us in that side of the division is that a lot of people who are supporters of Cordel, transferred into his division so that that large Cordel supporters are not any longer in my division as voters, they are still in the division but they are not voting.”

Like other aspirants in the city, both Smith and Elrington are campaigning on the promises of improved quality of life.

Godfrey Smith
“There’s no magic to it, people’s needs are very basic and very much continuing. They need to—the big problem in Belize City is to keep as many people educated as possible. If you can get people educated whether formally through high school, six form or getting them a skill through centre for employment training, you are doing a lot. So those priorities will continue to remain the same if I am re-elected.”

Wilfred Elrington
“I want to say to our people that we don’t belong on the periphery, we belong in the centre, this is our country but we have to take ownership of it. But before we take ownership, we have to be properly educated, must be healthy, we must be disciplined and we must be focused and we must work together.”

And while Smith is relying on his service in Pickstock, all P.U.P. candidates are feeling the strain in the electorate of what Prime Minister Said Musa referred to as “mistakes” and “challenges”. Smith was one of seven Ministers who resigned from cabinet in August, 2004. Since that split and Smith’s subsequent return to the party’s grace, many have speculated he hopes to one day become Prime Minister.

Godfrey Smith
“I’m currently a deputy leader and I’m satisfied in the role that I have. My most important ambition right now is to win my seat so that I can continue serving the people of the division who has put so much faith and confidence in me. If one wants to continue in politics, it is very important that you win your seat. It doesn’t mean if you don’t win your seat you can’t continue but it makes it all the more difficult if you don’t win, obviously you are assured continuity if you win.”

Tonight both candidates and their supporters are still targeting voters but the focus has now shifted from telling residents how to vote, to where to vote and to get to the polls early. Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

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