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Mar 6, 2009

SPEAR gives independent assessment of elections

Story PictureThe official statistics are saying that the voter turnout in Wednesday’s elections was within average, forty-eight percent. In Belize City, however, it was lower than in 2006, in fact by as much as seventeen percent. So who went to vote and what motivates voters? That is what Jose Sanchez set out to find.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Depending on who you speak to, the results of the 2009 municipal elections have a different meaning. Gus Perrera, Program Director for the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR), gave his perspective.

Gustavo Perera, Program Director, SPEAR
“First of all, where the results of the election is concerned, it is not surprising. It is not a surprising outcome because looking at the pattern historically, one would have expected that the incumbent would be favoured to win municipal elections simply because it comes on the heels of the U.D.P. being elected in the general elections in 2008. That’s been the pattern since the last six years or so. So it’s not surprising. What I think, in terms of the overall countrywide turnout forty-eight percent is within the average over the same period of time which has hovered around forty-five to fifty percent.”

Jose Sanchez
“What was the percentage for Belize City?”

Gustavo Perera
“For Belize City it was just below forty percent. We haven’t done an in-depth analysis but I’ve heard thirty-seven to forty percent which is pretty low for Belize City.”

Jose Sanchez
“What is that saying about the voters?”

Gustavo Perera
“I think what it is saying is that there is a growing feeling among the electorate that things aren’t changing that much, at least in their eyes and we tend to believe that—we refer to it as a growing democratic deficit meaning that more and more there is a kind of disillusion with the whole process. I think if we were to put in even a broader context, we were involved with another sister N.G.O. in a survey last year which was called the Youth Governance Survey which was surveying over thirteen thousand students in high school of adolescents age between primary school and early high school and the finding there was very telling. It was saying to us that not only presently do we have a growing disillusionment with the whole democratic process, but in the future if this situation isn’t addressed it’s going to be worse. From that survey we found that seventy percent of students said they would vote when they reached the age and they said that they would do that purely on issues. In other words, they want to hear the real issues being put on the table. But significantly, the thirty percent who said they are not interested in voting and thirty percent of any population is significant to say that we’re just apathetic about the whole process. So when you look at that thirty percent and you listen to what they’re saying, basically, they’re saying for example that they don’t see a major difference between the major political parties, they feel like it’s a waste of time, they feel that the real issues are not being addressed, some of them say that they just don’t care, some of them go as far as saying the system is a fraud. So what we have here is a growing apathy towards the whole electoral process.”

One reason suggested for the poor turnout in Belize City is that the P.U.P. and U.D.P. focused on sensational sound bites and scandals.

Gustavo Perera
“The focus on scandals speaks to the issue of what has been talked about quite a lot; the issue of transparency and accountability. Certainly, I believe that the Belizean electorate are still putting a lot of emphasis on those areas. In other words, people want transparent government but they also want the accountability that goes along with that. What it is suggesting really is that that’s a weakness. There’s room for a lot more improvement where those two things are concerned. Because that is a big issue for the electorate, I think the parties keep making these accusations toward each other because that’s the kind of…”

Jose Sanchez
“They are neglecting the other issues.”

Gustavo Perera
“The other issues get lost in all of that.”

Perrera says that sixty-five percent of the adolescents surveyed said that they would be influenced only by candidates who address real issues.

Gustavo Perera
“Only five percent really are saying the commercials have any impact on how they decide to vote. So I think what that is suggesting is that a lot of the commercials that are being put on are not—I think one would have to wonder how effectively those ads are published and are developed see what messages they’re communicating and maybe really look into the reality that you know what all this back and forth and finger pointing and blaming and scandals really don’t play a role at the end of the day. What people want to see is real change. There is a need to be more effective or involved in social programs simply because the other key issues that are of very high concern to the entire social population and again, to the youth is the issue of crime, violence, drugs, sexual abuse; those are some key issues people are very concerned about so going into the social arena is good.”

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

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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