By Wellington C Ramos
Caribbean News Now contributor
BELMOPAN, Belize – In the Referendum Election held in Belize, Wednesday May 8, 2019, approximately 65 percent of the registered voters or 148,500 cast their vote.
The results were yes-53,388 and no-43,029, out of 96,417 of the total votes that were cast. This turnout percentage was even higher than the number of Guatemalans that voted on this same issue on April 15, 2018. Only about 26 percent of Guatemala’s 7.5 million registered voters voted.
Before and after Belize’s independence in 1981, the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP), were grappling with the question of taking this claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Eventually, they both decided that this was the best way to resolve this dispute.
Then, last year the PUP leader John Briceno changed his mind from a yes to a no position after members of his party pressured him. As the votes kept coming from the various PUP constituencies that were saying no, it was clear by the yes votes, that the UDP government supported was going to win.
The Referendum Election was based on an agreement signed between Belize and Guatemala on December 8, 2008, to take the Guatemalan claim to Belize to the (ICJ) for a final resolution.
Now that both countries have voted yes to take this dispute to the ICJ, they will start preparing their cases to present to the court.
What is not clear after this election is, the reasons why the Belizean citizens decided to vote yes to go to the ICJ instead of a no vote – given the current circumstances they face after the countries of Great Britain and Belize signed the 1859 Treaty, The Webster Proposals of 1968, The Heads of Agreement 1981,The Maritime Areas Act 1991 and other agreements with Guatemala that will be produced in court.
In all these documents concessions were proposed to Guatemala and the Maritime Areas Act were legislated by the Belize National Assembly into law. Luckily for Belize, the Guatemalan Congress rejected the Maritime Areas Act.
Some reasons point to Belizeans agreeing that this is the best option available to them; they were paid to vote yes; the people who were advocating for the no vote did not provide them with compelling reasons to vote their way; or many Belizean independent-minded voters changed the outcome of the election. Many Belizeans citizens are moving away from the two main political parties to become independents.
This ICJ election was significant for Belize because general elections are going to be held in 2020 but can be called this year if the sitting prime minister decides to call it.
The PUP’s saw the no vote as their trump card to win the next election, but the vote did not turn out their way. Now, they must get prepared to face a general election.
The people of Belize have already voted to go to the ICJ with the Guatemalan dispute.
If the election were conducted in a fair and legal manner, the results would be validated and Belize will go to the ICJ as was agreed upon. In the absence of a ruling by the Court of Appeals to favour the PUP, nothing will be able to stop it. The Belize People’s Front (BPF) and other opposition political parties also took a no position to the ICJ. They are now meeting to see how to move forward after this vote.
The political parties in Belize must not make the mistake of thinking that because Belizeans voted yes to go to the ICJ, they will vote for them when the general elections are called. So far, many of the predictions that have been made about this ICJ election throughout the country surprised many political parties and politicians.
When it comes to the Guatemalan issue, Belizean citizens take it seriously. They have removed sitting governments from office in the past because of this issue and will not hesitate to do it again.
After this election was held, it now appears that many Belizeans believe that taking this issue to the ICJ is the best option available.
Belize gained its independence on September 21st, 1981, with a unanimous vote from the member states of the United Nations. Only Guatemala, out of all the countries in the world opposed Belize’s independence.