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October 20
17:45 2018

By: Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

These days when I get in a Facebook back and forth with people and they feel defeated they are quick to remind me that I was soundly beaten by Edmond “Clear the Land” Castro in the 2015 general elections. Clear the Land (the then two-time UDP representative) received 2,100 votes and I received 1,500 after only six months of political work. This was the best performance against Clear the Land since his 2008 victory, but yet to some my 2015 defeat, though honorable, is supposed to make me think less of myself. Their desire shall go unfulfilled of course, because Maja was Maja before politics and he remains Maja after politics; in other words Maja dah name brand since 2004!

Politics in Belize has become a zero sum game. It is precisely because politics in Belize has become a zero sum game that it has attracted candidates who are prepared to win by any means necessary. In this game second place doesn’t count. You get no medal or trophy, you get no honorable mention; what you will get for sure is ridiculed. If your constitution is weak it propels you to cheat at the polls because, to repeat, second place doesn’t count and most people cannot withstand the ridicule that some are quick to heap upon you if you lose.

When I entered politics in May of 2015 I promised myself three things (1) that I would not win by any means necessary, (2) I would not lie to the Belizean people and (3) I will not allow politics to change me. Since I did not win the second and third promise is moot, so let me discuss with you the phenomenon of win by any means necessary which is responsible for the caliber of politicians that we now have.

One of the primary avenues to success at the polls today is the unlawful act of vote buying. There is often accusation of vote buying from both sides of the political divide; they are both right. Vote buying is a common feature of electoral politics in Belize. The fact is that too many voters are willing to sell their vote for as little as $50. This is not to say that selling it for $500 is any better; in both instances it is a breach of the law and it corrupts our democracy.

I cannot say with any certainty when the practice of vote buying/selling started and whether it was the politician who started it or the voters but what I can tell you with great certainty that it is so pervasive it can determine the outcome of an election. It seems that in each constituency there is a block of voters who are for sale. They have to be induced to show up at the polls. They are what we call “sure votes” but if they are not sufficiently provoked they simply refuse to go out and vote. These voters often veil their business venture by the following remark: “I wah vote fi who help me.” Such help comes at a cost and it is the very desire of politicians to “help” people that has shaped the campaign finance quagmire in which our democracy finds itself.

My experience is that the voters who sell their votes are resigned to the fact that the politician will steal so in their view since they are empowering the politician in his quest for riches it is only fair that they be compensated. This is an incredible state of mind and raises some serious questions. How did we come to such a pass as a people? And how has this mindset shaped modern day politics and by extension our state of underdevelopment?

As bad as it is, the illegal practice of vote buying is not just about the politician and the voter; it often has complicity on the part of those who surround the politician: the political support structure. Most politicians are subject to significant pressure from their supporting staff to pay for votes. In fact the free flow of cash on Election Day is how many of those you see surrounding the politician hustle. They ask for $100 for the voter but they “shave” off a lee something for themselves. Dishonesty on every level: the politician, the voter and the support structure.

I remember when I met with my Belize Rural North Committee in May of 2005 and told them that I do not intend to win by any means necessary and that I will not entertain vote buying some were visibly disappointed. In fact one member told me point blank that I will lose because that is the way the game is played; that member went on to suggest that I pay for votes and then after I win I should try and change the system. In response I asked a simple question. “If a man cometh to political power by dishonest means do you expect him to magically become honest after he has won?” There was no answer but as I said before some people were clearly not happy with that position.

On Election Day a group of supposedly PUP voters were pressuring me through a political worker to pay them to go vote; this was about 4:00 p.m., crunch time! I refused to pay and I can recall vividly a young man, who was standing behind me, making it very clear that he wanted me to lose by 10 votes so that I would have to reflect on the fact that I did not want to pay him and his family for their votes. This is how it is, so whose fault is it, the voter or the politician?

Electoral politics has shown me a side of Belize that terrifies me. Too many of us are detached from our country. It is never about Belize, it seems. It is always about us as individuals. This is a position supported by both political parties because if we put Belize first our politicians would never be able to do the things that they have been doing to us. All this is leading Belize to a very bad place. Very soon there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Who will we blame then, the politician or the voter?

Looking back on my political experience I am happy that I took the decision to not buy votes. Sure I would have wanted to win. Only a crazy man enters a contest with a desire to lose but winning by any means necessary says a great deal about one’s core. You can’t win by dishonest means and then having won become honest again. If you don’t believe me just look at 1981 – 2018!
Politics has “made” some people but there is more to being a productive Belizean than being a politician.

In fact since our independence there have been less than 250 elected representatives. Whatever the state of our nation’s development it is not all their doing. Everyday thousands of hardworking Belizeans set about to build Belize: teachers, taxi men, masons, plumbers, soldiers, food vendors, etc… their work is no less important than those with political power.

I am a man of competence, a man of vast experience across several disciplines and a man of compassion. There are tens of thousands of Belizeans just like me; but they have not bothered to enter politics. It is not people like me that need politics; it is politics that needs people like me.

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