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Mr. Barrow’s Fourth Term

Mr. Barrow’s Fourth Term
June 09
17:26 2019

By Lloyd Jones

“Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Prime Minister he shall appoint a member of the House of Representatives who is the leader of the political party which commands the support of the majority of the members of that House…”

Section 37(2) of the Belize Constitution (as amended).

“No person shall be appointed as a Prime Minister who has previously held the office of the Prime Minister for three parliamentary terms, either consecutively or in the aggregate…”

When Prime Minister Barrow amended the Constitution in 2008, he was probably still terrified at the prospect of Said Musa holding the office of Prime Minister for more than three terms. Said Musa had been reckless with the Belizean purse between 1998-2008 so much so that he saw a rebellion by seven members of his Cabinet who became known as the G7.

Mr. Barrow was clearly spooked by Mr. Musa’s handling of our nation’s finances because Act 13 of 2008 is not the kind of constitutional amendment a first time Prime Minister makes less than a year after assuming office; especially since such an amendment was not a manifesto promise.

Mr Barrow was probably thinking that by limiting the office of Prime Minister to three terms [even in aggregate] Said Musa would at best have one more term in which to handle the finances of Belize.

Mr Barrow’s three consecutive general elections victories are historic because no party leader has led his party to such successive victories post-independence. However, with his three successive terms Mr. Barrow exhausted his constitutional time limit as Prime Minister.

In 2019, buoyed by the UDP’s May 8th referendum “victory”, Mr. Barrow now feels confident that his UDP can deliver a fourth consecutive win at the polls in 2020. Mr. Barrow’s confidence and his now evident hesitation to move on, has started rumblings in the senior ranks of the UDP that Mr. Barrow may be lusting for a fourth term as Prime Minister.

In a strange bit of irony, it is Mr Barrow’s own 2008 constitutional amendment that constrains him. In hindsight when Mr. Barrow restricted the office of Prime Minister to three terms he clearly could not have contemplated his own political fortunes yet to be. To secure a fourth term as Prime Minster, Mr Barrow therefore needs to undo what he did in 2008. But how?!

Mr. Barrow first declared in March of 2016 that he would be stepping down as Prime Minister in “2020 or later 2019.” His remarks came as he was being questioned by the media about the pending convention for deputy leader of the UDP. In April 2017 at the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s annual general meeting Mr. Barrow narrowed down his time of departure to less than a year when he declared that “Since this will be my last opportunity to address your annual gathering, I close by saying how thankful I am for what has in the main been a constructive relationship with the Chamber.”

It’s important to point out that in 2017 Mr. Barrow was ailing with excruciating back pain; a condition he had been enduring for some time. He could barely sit up without visible signs of pain on his face. It is understandable then, that in such poor state of health and having achieved a historic 3-peat, he would welcome retirement. But in September of 2018 things changed: Mr. Barrow went to Cuba for spinal surgery and the Cuban doctors did a phenomenal job. The surgery was a success!

On November 27, 2018 Mr Barrow’s Cabinet by way of a strange press release informed the Belizean people that Mr. Barrow would stay on as party leader of the UDP until after the leadership convention to be held in January of 2020. A significant walking back from his declaration at the 2017 Chamber meeting.

One must distinguish here that after the UDP’s leadership convention the winner, according to UDP’s constitution [as explained by Mr. Barrow], does not assume the post of leader of the Party, he would instead assume the post of “leader elect.” This distinction is important because the Belize Constitution is clear that the Prime Minister is to be the “leader” of the Party which commands the majority of seats in the House.

If the rumblings coming out of the UDP are true, then to secure his fourth term as Prime Minister, Mr Barrow needs two things: [1] a caretaker party leader and [2] a constitutional majority in the 2020 general elections.

There are increasing murmurs within the UDP that Mr. Barrow may have already been searching for a caretaker party leader. One who would be willing to step down and hand over power back to Mr. Barrow after a constitutional amendment. Mr. Barrow it seems does not believe that either Patrick Faber or John Saldivar would be prepared to act in such capacity. Recognizing this fact, Mr. Barrow has been testing the reaction of the Party to a leader other than the once heir apparent, Patrick Faber. Mr. Barrow started by leaving Hugo Patt as acting Prime Minister. In one instance Mr. Barrow may have done so in clear contravention of the Constitution.

Even when the Deputy Prime Minister was out of the country Mr. Barrow never turned to John Saldivar. At first it seems that there was very little resistance to Mr. Barrow’s experiment but something happened that caused Mr. Barrow to pivot to Michael Peyrefitte.

To fulfil Mr. Barrow’s plan Peyrefitte had to get into the House of Representative and so he was made to contest the convention in Port Loyola. It is doubtful that Mr. Barrow’s dream of a fourth term died with Peyrefitte’s defeat in November of 2018. The UDP is Mr Barrow’s party and if Mr. Barrow wants a fourth term the UDP will grant him a fourth term. The question now is how?

Securing a constitutional majority might be far easier to achieve than finding a caretaker Prime Minister. Belize’s Constitution makes a king out of a Prime Minister and once Faber or Saldivar becomes Prime Minister it will be near impossible to wrest control back from them. So therein lies Mr. Barrow’s dilemma. Oh how he must regret Act 13 of 2008!

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