By: Dr. Gerald Zuniga
Studies in Political Science; School of Political Science, San Carlos University, Guatemala City
November 6, 2019.
I have been hearing, even on the media, that after the UDP’s internal election in February, that Prime Minister Barrow will eventually step down and that that person which at this point would be either Patrick Faber or John Saldivar, would automatically become the Prime Minister of Belize. If that happens, that would be unconstitutional and hence nulo ipse jure or null and void.
If anything happens to Mr. Barrow that deters or interferes with his ability to perform his constitutional duty or that he resigns, the only person who is qualified constitutionally to become the Prime Minister of Belize would be the Deputy Prime Minister of Belize and not the UDP party leader. That being said if hypothetically Patrick Faber wins and Dean Barrow resigns, Patrick Faber would become Prime Minister but not as the UDP party leader but because he is the actual Deputy Prime Minister.
If John Saldivar wins and then becomes the Prime Minister in the case of a resignation of P.M. Barrow without becoming first the Deputy Prime Minister that would be unconstitutional. Hence, null and void. The Governor General as Head of State and the upholder of our Constitution will have no other choice but not to approve such practice. The Governor General would have to call on the House and appoint John Saldivar as Prime Minister if he is not appointed as Deputy Prime Minister before the resignation of Prime Minister Barrow. Not doing neither, the Governor General will have no other choice but to dissolve the House of Representatives and call for General Elections. This being said, what happens inside the UDP Party has nothing to do with Belize as a State according to our Constitution. It is their show inside their party.
As a matter of fact, since 1984 our Constitution has been violated in this aspect alone. Apart from the violation in other areas. All our Prime Ministers since 1984 which includes Manuel Esquivel, Said Musa, and our actual Dean Barrow have all been unconstitutional. Read my article from Google “Party Leadership and Prime Ministership” There has been the notion that we have as voters have, that the leader of a political party that wins a general election is automatically the Prime Minister of our country Belize. It is a mere fallacy and if considered traditional or customary, it is unconstitutional. The lawyer in the Office of the Governor General should have known such since Dame Minita Gordon was Governor General and more so now and still not known or if known not practiced and any practice not in accordance with our Constitution is unconstitutional even if it is in ordinary laws. All ordinary laws must be in accordance with the Constitution or the spirit of the Constitution. Otherwise, it is deemed nulo ipse jure or null and void. Either amend the Constitution or amend the law.
Party leadership is a mere symbolic internal political party practice and doesn’t or shouldn’t translate to become the Prime Minister of Belize when that party wins the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, if the stipulation of our Constitution is executed as is.
Art. 37-(1) of the Constitution of Belize states that “There shall be a Prime Minister of Belize who shall be appointed by the Governor General” and it continues in Paragraph (2) by saying “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, and if no political party has an overall majority, he shall appoint a member of that House who appears to him likely to command the support of the majority of the members of that House.” Curiously, the paragraph of this Article mentioned “he” and “him” and our first Governor General was a female: Dame Minita Gordon. The feminist of today would say that our Constitution is machistic. For argument sake and valid inclusion, that wording of our Constitution should be reformed. So that our Constitution be inclusive and in tune with modern trends. Our Constitution as it is clear which I am not in agreement with for obvious reasons. I want my vote to be respected and I would like to have the rights and privilege of electing my Prime Minister but it the actual Constitution and should be reforms should be done before the UDP party leadership election and put an end to three decade unconstitutional practice. We should request that the will of people be constitutionally respected.
As an actual customary practice, I am in agreement because at least there the power of our voting is granted to us. Even though, I am in the opinion that our Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister should be voted for countrywide and that they even appoint their cabinet from the civil society that they deem qualified. Only so, they can have control of the executive and “hire and fire” without affecting governance and would have a control over corruption in the Executive and that we separate the Executive from the Legislative without becoming a Republic and that both have a moral and political commitment with the country as a whole.
As structured and executed, the Prime Minister has a moral and political obligation with his constituency, though, in reality it is another story because we don’t see evidence of such in the Queen Square Constituency. It is just another constituency. So our practice of a party leader becoming Prime Minister is unconstitutional. It has been customary that we assume that such Leader could and should become the Prime Minister of Belize because the Constitution doesn’t say so. The Governor General exercising his or her constitutional duty can give us a surprise, if he or she decides to execute the Constitution as is. Can you then answer this question? Shouldn’t we ask for a constitutional reform where we stipulate these reforms and the will of the people prevails constitutionally and not customarily? IT IS IMPERATIVE that we be in legality and avoid legal challenges.
Is it also legitimate when one becomes Prime Minister of Belize with 2000 votes or less and have all that power and having Ministers with 7000 votes, for example? This needs to be revisited. This is also seen in local governmental elections where Councilors get more votes than the Mayor. Who is more representative hence more legitimate? Shouldn’t we advocate for a more participatory and representative democracy? They could be legal but not legitimate. Legally is granted by the laws but legitimacy is granted by us, the voters. Remember, voting is not democracy. It is only a tool or vehicle used in democracy. And if you are induced and conduced to vote in a predetermined manner that totally undermines a democracy or a democratic process. Not only in democracies are elections held. Ask the Cubans.
Neither is it that the Deputy Prime Minister is determined by votes within a political party. So an appointed or elected Deputy Party Leader within a political party doesn’t mean that he or she becomes Deputy Prime Minister when they win in an election. Our Constitution continues by stating that “The Governor General shall in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, designate a Minister as Deputy Prime Minister to whom the Prime Minister may from to time depute such of his function as he may specify.” Remember, the Constitution is the supreme law of a nation and all other laws are ordinary laws which stem from the Constitution. Our Constitution is above or supersedes even International Public Law. A Constitution is only superseded by Human Rights Law.
The same in regards to the Leader of the Opposition. This is what our Constitution says in regards to the Leader of the Opposition in Art. 47(2). “Whenever there is occasion for a Leader of the Opposition the Governor General shall appoint the member of the House of Representatives who appears to him most likely to command the support of a majority of the members of the House who do not support the Government; or, if no member of the House appears to him to command such support, the member of the House who appears to him to command the support of the largest single group of members of the House who do not support the Government.’ So the notion that the Leader of the losing second majority in the House of Representatives is automatically the Leader of the Opposition is also a fallacy and our practice has also been unconstitutional. It has also become customary but it is unconstitutional. Curiously, the politicians should be the first to comply with our Constitution or legislate a constitutional reform or amendment which is in accordance with our customary practice since 1981 or in accordance with a more sovereign democratic practice.
So the notion that the Leader of a political party and the Leader of the second majority political party is automatically the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition is a fallacy and unconstitutional. This has been the result of a customary practice and not necessarily abiding with our Constitution. It is our obligation as citizens to abide by our Constitution and avoid constitutional challenges which can nullify an action, disposition, agreement, treaty, or law and also be subjected to other legal actions since it is a grave offense to violate constitutional principles of a nation. In other countries, it is punished with incarceration.
This being said, it is paramount that urgent constitutional amendments be done in these articles before the leadership election within the UDP, to convert our customary practices to Constitutional practices and avoid constitutional challenges which will eventually arise as people get awaken or when we set aside personal or sectorial interest and place nation building first with our Constitution as the guideline.
ED Note: Also, the opinions put forward are solely of the author and not necessarily PUP policy.