Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Red or Blue: No Difference

On March 4th, the People's United Party - the party once endowed with undeniable moxie - suffered their third consecutive defeat at the polls, an emphatic indication of their emaciated influence over Belizean politics. But while the PUP's most recent debacle may be interpreted as a rejection of their policies in favor of the UDP's ideology, the Belizean society is still hungry for a paradigmatic shift in our two-party political system; this desire was captured in a significantly low voter turnout across the country, especially in the largest municipality, Belize City. Moreover the tacit displeasure of our governance is also evident by the negligible ramifications of March 4th: there would have been simply no change in government oversight, fiscal responsibility, level of corruption or mismanagement regardless of whether the entire country voted for one party or the other.

The above hypothesis does not purport to devalue the act of voting itself; voting upholds our democracy in a region where coups and dictatorships are engrained in its history. Our country, however, can boast that every five years we will peacefully and democratically elect a national assembly of representatives. Voting, in its purest sense, provides the grease for our democratic machinery.

Yet, when comparing the two major political parties, there exists little difference with regard to substantive issues; this seemingly undermines the legitimacy of voting. In other words, why vote if there are no significant differences between political parties? Fair point. The true value of holding elections is that we get to choose between different candidates. But that value is undermined when candidates fail to distance themselves from campaign rhetoric and cliched propoganda. Unequivocally, both parties are guilty of this charge. Perhaps the most over-used campaign pitch for a candidate to vote for him/her is because she/he "is for the people". What does that exactly mean anyway? Another example is when both parties say they are "for the poor people". This is an enigma to me, and the worst example of our politicians following the maxims of a tattered script. They have failed to innovate their minds and ideas to the social and economic problems of 2009. What is worst, is that these mediocre campaign strategies actually work and seem to provide the fire for party followers.

For now, I think the only substantive difference between our political parties is the pigment of their logos. From an ideological perspective, there exists little variation. We don't have conservatives or liberals or moderates. Maybe our issues are too small for political differentiation. Afterall, the paving of Albert Street was by far the most reported news story of 2008. Go figure. Nevertheless, I will continue to vote in our elections not because I feel one party is more adept at formulating solutions, but rather, and sadly, because voting is my constitutional right and because it facilitates democracy. Those, however, are the wrong reasons to vote. It is up to our party leaders to separate themselves from stagnation and to give our citizens a real choice for leadership.


Unpatriotic Patriot said...

Sometimes I wonder how many people in Belize are really thinking along your train of thought. I wonder how many are really and truly hungry for change. Did the lower voter turnout really signal the nausea of cliched propaganda and a lack of confidence in our politicians' plans and direction?

I really hope so. Before the city council elections, I felt sick to my stomach as people on the street voiced their staunch support for blue or red on the evening news. One man said to the TV reporter, “No matter what my party do, I always support my party cause I dah blue and I think if dat dah your party, I no care what, you need fi have your party back. So I dah wah supporter for P.U.P. ‘til I dead. So dehn noh have to worry bout me. I straight.”

That kind of thinking worries me. What percentage of our population do you think this man represents? Is it a matter of class, education, that fosters this culture? Is this culture perpetuated by business leaders who find the two-party political system to be of major benefit in their financial gains?

The person who wrote this post is obviously a very bright individual, but how many like him are there? What percentage of the Belizean population have internet access?

What worries me too is the fact those with the intellect speak to the general public as though they are on the same plane. It gets under my skin when politicians do this. (See Flashpoint in Belize Times) The politician blocks out the average reader entirely.

Am I being too much of a downer? Perhaps I'm not aware of something... maybe this lower voter turnout is really indeed a signal that people are seeing through the BS?

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! Except...I wonder if perhaps it is safe to say that the UDP is a bit more conservative than the PUP?

UDP-run Belize typically seems to be very slow because a lack of big spending, which, ostensibly, is a bad thing. At this point in time though, I think it might not be a bad thing since we must find a way to reconfigure our approach to funding infrastructural programmes, internal government responsibilities, etcetera while paying off a huge external debt. (At least in the short-term it might be good).

On the other hand, the PUP is all about giving the economy all the finance as is possible. This, ostensibly, is a good thing, but might not be the safest road to tread nowadays. It would be similar to the Obama approach to fixing the economy. There will be huge spending now, but it only increases the bill that future generations will have to deal with.

Of course, I concede that apart from fiscal matters, there are hardly any noticeable differences that can mark either as being of particular ideological trains.

Democrates said...

I too cringed when I heard that person on the news say he will support his party without question. Sadly, I think many share this position (maybe not to his extent) because of family tradition. However, I would hope that as young adults/teens grow up that they become more independent and objective with regard to their political views, and rely less on which party their parents support. More dialogue on political issues in primary and secondary education is but one ingredient of the requisite antidote to correct this societal malady.

Unpatriotic Patriot said...

I know for me, when I think about spending in both parties, I've always thought about how much money they are wrecklessly spending on themselves or how irresponsibly they allocate their budget. I recently spoke with a 60 year old Belizean business man who moaned and groaned to me about his lack of confidence in the integrity of our government (past and present). He's paid loads in income taxes, and it pains his heart as he sees his money goes into an investment with little return, when he sees his money contributing to corruption.. "I get so sick of this place, I just want to leave!" he wailed. Growing as a child and teen in Belize, the corruption of public finances have always overshadowed everything else that my parents and other working people's monies fund. I remember in a PUP political ad campaign, when they were being attacked for alleged corruption, they boasted all their accomplishments in TV ads (schools, clinics, infrastructural development) and as much as I would've wanted to be pleased, the blatant misuse of our money weighed so much more ... I found it so difficult appreciating what they had done for us. How can these politicians get us to listen to their plans and projects when we're blinded by the injustices in their system?

Democrates said...

I think in terms of corruption, the PUP certainly sets the standard. Amidst their most controversial decisions (DFC, Novelos, BTL, Universal) they never once consulted with the public or sought public advice about their intentions. If they had done so, and had explained why they decided on a particular route, maybe they would not be juxtaposed to corruption and misconduct.

The UDP on the other hand steers clear of controversial issues, but they repeatedly demonstrate an incapacity to manage public funds efficiently. So while corruption is an appropriate label for the PUP, I think 'mismanagement' or 'incompetence' are better epithets for the UDP.