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Jan 24, 2003

It’s official: elections will be March 5th

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The nervous anticipation was palpable on Independence Hill today as the House of Representatives convened in Belmopan…and when Prime Minister Said Musa took the floor, he did not waste any time. He began with the words: “it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to set the date for general elections”, and the House went silent. Minutes later, all the rumours and speculation had been put to rest. General elections have been called and their date is March fifth.

Prime Minister Said Musa

“A nation that is in the middle of a drawn out election campaign, whose leaders must concentrate on campaigning rather than facing the difficulties generated by world events, is not good for the country. The uncertainty of this state of affairs can also adversely affect the investment climate, delaying crucial investments when they are most needed. And often, a delayed investment is a lost investment. It is these considerations above all, which have led me to the conclusion that it would be wrong for the country and harmful to its people if we were to drag out the election campaign for several more months. Belize needs a government with a fresh mandate, not one nearing the end of its term and preoccupied with elections, to face the many new problems resulting from unfolding world events beyond our control. The date I have chosen is not only based on what is best for the party, but also on what is necessary for the country. I have therefore decided to advice His Excellency the Governor General to dissolve the National Assembly on February the fourth 2003, to arrange for nomination day to be on February seventeenth and to name as the date for the general elections, Wednesday, March fifth.”

“At the same time, I am conscious that March fifth falls this year on Ash Wednesday, a day that has special religious significance for a large number of our citizens. I have consulted with religious leaders and explained the fact that our hands are tied on this matter with respect to municipal elections and they have understood. In order for people to be able to comfortably fulfil their religious obligations and also find time to vote, we will declare March fifth a public and bank holiday.”

“The law now states, however, that those voting in general elections must be on the roll by nomination day, in this case, February seventeenth. The practical effect of this would be that only those who registered by the tenth of January, two weeks ago would be able to vote in the general elections. This is unacceptable, not only because of the great confusion this would cause in the municipalities where some people would be allowed to vote for their town and city councillors but not for their representative, but also because those people of all political persuasions who have been registering since January tenth, will feel justifiably that they have been disenfranchised. The minister responsible has signed a statutory instrument, which is laid before the House today to bring the law back to what it was before the U.D.P. changed it for its own political advantage, so that all who register by the tenth of February will be able to vote in the general, as well as the municipal elections.”

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition (from the podium)

“So on top of things is the United Democratic Party that his announcement came as no surprise. Anyone who passes by the Bel-China Bridge will see that we have already rearranged the sign on top of our headquarters building to indicate the countdown and the number of days that this crowd has left before they haf to go, to account for the March fifth election day.”

Dean Barrow (being interviewed)

“We still are very concerned about the fact of the two elections in one, especially since the municipal elections require a separate vote for mayor. We think that the logistics are going to be nightmarish. We think there’ll be a great deal of confusion. We think the counting process will be bogged down with all sorts of difficulties. We can foresee, perhaps a record number of spoilt ballots, and we really would have wished that it would have been otherwise. Any case, that’s the way it is, so we will just try to do our best in terms of preparing our people to deal with the multiplicity of ballots that they will be faced with. We hope that Elections and Boundaries will give both sides a chance to make inputs into how this process can perhaps be streamlined, and into the education campaign that will have to take place in terms of trying to minimise as much as possible the mistakes and difficulties that will inevitably, I think, now take place.”

Janelle Chanona

“P.M. you’ve just announced that the general elections will be held the same day as the municipal elections. Is the Elections and Boundaries Commission prepared to take a double whammy on that day technically?”

Prime Minister Said Musa

“Yes. I have been assured that they can cope, not only cope, but that they can carry out both elections very effectively and efficiently on March fifth.”

Janelle Chanona

“Will there be plans to differentiate the ballot papers for the different elections?”

Prime Minister Said Musa

“Yes, there will be two separate ballot papers. People will vote first for their representative, and after they have cast that ballot, they go on to a second table in the same polling station. They will get the second ballot for the municipal election, and they will cast that second ballot. There can be no confusion over that.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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