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Jan 27, 2006

Independents heat up mayoral race in twin towns

Story PictureWhile much of the attention of the political campaigns for the March municipal elections appears to be concentrated in Belize City and Belmopan, by all accounts, the race for dominance in all seven towns and two cities will be tight. On Thursday, News Five’s Janelle Chanona travelled west and found contenders of all colours.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
Amid the hustle and bustle of life in the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena, political machineries are shifting into high gear this week, hitting the pavement to canvass for votes.

But in the western town, the showdown on March first will not be limited to the candidates of the United Democratic Party and the People?s United Party, as to date two independent candidates have also offered themselves as mayoral contenders for election.

Running under a jade green banner is artist Fernando Cruz. According to Cruz, after living abroad for many years, he?s come home to fulfil a family destiny of political life.

Fernando Cruz, Independent Mayoral Candidate
?People are quite frustrated with both political parties. In all the campaigning I?ve been doing so far?both in Santa Elena and San Ignacio?people, so called supporters of the U.D.P. or the P.U.P. are telling me very plainly that they are frustrated with the two parties, that they do not want to come out and vote. So my point of view to them is saying, you know what, I know you are frustrated but we have to exercise our right. So if you only come out and vote for me, Fernando Cruz and that colour green on the first of March, we can start putting this town back on the right track.?

Using burgundy on the ballot paper is a former United Democratic Party councillor Luis Ayala. Ayala says this time he will find success independently.

Luis Ayala, Independent Mayoral Candidate
?Like what Spanish or Latin music seh, lo que paso, paso. We the people here of San Ignacio have all been disrespected, there is no appreciation for people, and I think the majority of the poor people are only made important election day. After elections, you are no longer important simply because you are not wealthy or because you don?t have monetary funds, which is wrong. We understand that the poor people should be made important election, after an election, and beyond election. To win an election, the majority is the poor and you need to work with the poor and have respect for them … and that is what I want to do.?

Platform issues for the campaigns include concerns like clogged drains, potholes in the streets, hospital facilities, and of course, promises of good governance and anti-corruption measures within the town council.

Fernando Cruz
?I want to be the voice of the people, I want to actually make these two parties start working together. But at the same time, we need to start addressing the issues of?I mean people talk about the state of the street at the moment. But we cannot address the state of the streets in San Ignacio if we do not start addressing the drainage problem that affects both San Ignacio and Santa Elena.?

?The nursing staff in the hospital are brilliant, but unless you have the right medicines, medical facility, people are scared of coming to the hospital so as leaders of the community, we should actually lead the way, unite the people and try and salvage the things that are essential to us in San Ignacio and Santa Elena.?

Luis Ayala
?The market area is a total, total disaster. For that market area, our present town council collects approximately about four thousand dollars every month on taxes. If we put a thousand dollars aside to do some infrastructure to help on that market, it will help both Santa Elena and San Ignacio and the community villages that the farmers come in and sell on market day.?

?I believe that there is much corruption in both parties, the United Democratic Party and the People?s United Party. I think things should be different because when we come here, we come to serve the people, not to en-wealthy our families, our friends, close friends, and ourselves.?

Opponents from the country?s two dominant political parties appear unfazed by the independents? presence.

John August Jr., U.D.P. Mayoral Candidate
?They are good people, but I don?t think that on a whole, Belize, here in San Ignacio and Santa Elena, I think the battle is between the United Democratic Party and the People?s United Party.?

Nelson Tillett, P.U.P. Mayoral Candidate
?I believe it?s a plus to me because basically, they will lessen the chances of the opposition because they are both getting support from the Opposition and not from P.U.P.?s, so I think it will be a plus for us.?

John August Jr. is the mayoral candidate for the incumbent U.D.P. council.

John August, Jr.
?People are looking for honest leadership, good leadership, leadership that will make a difference in the community of San Ignacio and Santa Elena. And that is what we are working on, we will bring accountability back, not only to Santa Elena and San Ignacio, but we want to create an image for the entire country. And I think that?s what myself and my candidates will be bringing to this present town council elections.?

The P.U.P. slate is led mayoral hopeful Nelson Tillett.

Nelson Tillett
?The town council can only do better if we have a town council from the same party. In this case, we have the People?s United Party in central government and if we have a P.U.P. slate, we can only have much more work. So that?s why we are asking for a chance, because we know we have the support from our party and in return we can develop our town.?

Janelle Chanona
?If you were to be elected, what would be the first thing you would when you are sitting behind that Mayor?s desk??

Nelson Tillett
?I won?t be doing too much sitting behind a desk, we?ll be out here working, especially this drain problem. I promise people everyday I am out here, and if you look at this, this is a problem. Yesterday people couldn?t even come out of their house because it is over flooded. And I promise people that hopefully a week or a month after we are elected, then we will start on this project. One of the ways we are going to encounter most of the problems in our town is because we plan to zone off Santa Elena and San Ignacio and have a councillor zoned off to one specific zone. So we think in that way, we can get things done because if we leave everything to the mayor, it won?t work.?

John August Jr.
?Belizeans overall, especially here in San Ignacio and Santa Elena want better accountability with their money, they want to know where their money is going, and that?s one of the first that we?ll be working on. So people know with this town council, once we are elected on March first, they will know exactly where every dime is being spent in the community.?

?The People United Party, the image that they have created for themselves over the past eight years is playing against them, but we as a party we are working hard. We are campaigning on that, that is the major issue, but we are working hard also. We know it?s important to reach out to everybody, so we are doing a house to house campaign as I think we cannot only depend on that wave, we have to go out and show the people why they should elect us come first of March.?

And while the U.D.P. and P.U.P. are confident of their respective election strategies, one independent had this parting shot for other prospective candidates who have gone with their own colour scheme.

Luis Ayala
?Anybody else that decides to run as an independent candidate, don?t be kept back, don?t be frustrated or be put down low and tell you, the party is bigger than you. The party is no bigger than any person … a party is made up of a group of people. And lot of people like to take parties, especially the political parties, as only a group. But we the people of San Ignacio are definitely bigger than both political parties in San Ignacio.?

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

According to officials of the Elections and Boundaries Department, as of December 2005 there were eight thousand seven hundred and forty registered voters in the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio.

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