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Election Basics

Belize is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy, recognising Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. She is represented by the Governor-General. The country has a bicameral legislature and a mature social democratic party system, based on universal adult suffrage and total purity in elections.

An election allows those eligible to vote (the electorate) to decide who should represent their views and interests. Elections are held at regular intervals to enable the population to change their representative if they no longer feel that the current postholder best represents those views and interests.

Fair and free elections are an essential part of a democracy, allowing citizens to determine how they want the country to be governed.

TYPES OF ELECTIONS IN BELIZE

General Elections

In accordance with Section 84 (2) of the Belize Constitution, General Elections are held every five years to elect the members of the House of Representative. There are presently thirty-one (31) members who represent the thirty-one electoral divisions in the country.

Municipal Elections

In accordance with section 4(1) of Belize City Council Act, Belmopan City Council Act and of the Town Council Act, elections are held every three (3) years. The following members are elected: Belize City: One (1) Mayor and ten (10) Councillors, Belmopan City and Towns, One (1) Mayor and six (6) Councillors.

Village/Comunity Council Elections

In accordance with the Village/ Community Council Act, CAP 88 elections are held every three years. One Chairman and six members are elected.

Referendum

In accordance with the Referendum Act, CAP 10 and other subsequent amendments, a Referendum is held on matters of sufficient National Importance; and on any proposed settlement of the Belize/Guatemala dispute. A Referendum is a direct vote in which the electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular issue or proposal. In accordance with the Recall of Elected Representative Act, a Referendum may be held to recall Elected Representatives.

HOW GENERAL ELECTIONS WORK  IN BELIZE

A general election is held when Parliament is dissolved by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day. In accordance with Section 84 (2) of the Belize Constitution, General Elections are held every five years to elect the members of the House of Representative

Belize is divided into 31 electoral districts or constituencies. Voters in each constituency elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to send to the House of Representatives on the first past-the-post system. (The Senate in Belize is not an elected body.)

A political party is a group of people who seek to influence or form the government according to their agreed views and principles. There are two main political parties in Belize. Each party nominates one candidate for each constituency. Independent candidates may also stand for elections.

The party that wins the most constituencies is asked by the Governor-General to form the government. The leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister. If the party wins in more than 16 constituencies, it will have a majority government, which makes it much easier to get legislation passed in the House. If the winning party has fewer than 16 seats, it forms a minority government. In order to get legislation through the House, a minority government usually has to adjust policies to get enough votes from MPs of other parties.

The party that has the second highest number of seats in the House of Representatives is called the Official Opposition.

Any citizen of Belize who is 21 years of age or older and resident in Belize is eligible for election to the House of Representatives.

STAGES OF THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
1 Each voter (also called an elector) receives a form shortly before an election in their constituency and this gives the location of their polling station.
2 Each elector presents his/her identification card to officials at the polling station, who checks off the name of the voter against the electoral register and issue them with a ballot paper.
3 Electors vote by putting a cross on the ballot form against the name of the candidate they want to represent them and then placing the ballot paper in a sealed box. (Any other mark or comment on the paper renders it invalid.)
4 When polling closes, the ballot boxes are collected from each polling station in the constituency and taken to a central point.There the seals are checked before the boxes are opened and the votes for each candidate are counted.
5 When the counting finishes, the results of voting in that constituency are announced by the returning officer, who declares the winner of the election.
CALLING ELECTIONS

In Belize, the Prime Minister may call general elections at any time, though no more than five years may lapse from one general election to the next. All seats in the House of Representatives are vacant and the political party that wins the most seats in the subsequent general election form the government. Aside from general elections, for which all seats are open, by-elections are held when a Member of Parliament dies or resigns.

The Prime Minister's power of discretion adds an element of spontaneity to the electoral process that does not exist in systems where voting dates are fixed on the calendar. Prime ministers generally ask the monarch, the formal head of state, to dissolve Parliament when they think their party has the best chance of winning a general election.

Other factors may force an election on a Prime Minister. It is a convention (established practice) that if a government is defeated in the House of Representatives on a vote of confidence, then a general election will follow.

CANDIDATES

Any person who is a Barbadian citizen may stand as a candidate at a parliamentary election providing he or she is aged 21 or over. Anyone who wishes to stand for election must be nominated on an official nomination paper submitted on Nomination Day. They must stand either for an established political party or as an independent.

For General Elections six persons whose names appear on the Voters' List sign the nomination form as witnesses for a candidate. The candidate assents to the nomination by signing on the nomination form. If at four o'clock in the afternoon only one candidate has been nominated for the seat to be filled, the Returning Officer declares such candidate to have been elected and certifies by endorsing the return of that candidate on Form 20 and returns the writ to the Chief Elections Officer for transmission to the Governor-General.

All candidates must pay a BXD 250 deposit to the Government Treasury.

THE CAMPAIGN

Once the Prime Minister decides to call a general election then he or she will go to see the Governor-General to request that Parliament is dissolved. If the Governor-General agrees (there would have to be very strong constitutional reasons why he/she would refuse) then a Proclamation is issued, which officially allows the dissolution (bringing to an end) of the Parliament. It is customary for the Prime Minister to make a statement announcing the date of the dissolution and usually the reason for calling a general election.

How long is an election campaign?

The formal campaign is a relatively short-lived affair: the Prime Minister must give a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of six weeks' notice for a general election. In practice, informal campaigning tends to start much earlier.

What happens once Parliament has been dissolved?

Once Parliament has been formally dissolved, the Clerk of Parliament issues Writs of Election for each constituency and the election timetable commences..

During the election campaign all the main political parties produce a wide range of publicity material. Manifestos will be published setting out the party's policies on each major issue. The headquarters of each party is responsible for preparing party election advertising material and broadcasts for television and radio.

Provision is made under Regulation 4 of the general elections (Allocation of Broadcasting Time) Regulations 1990, for the allocation of broadcasting time during an election period to any political party which satisfies the Commission that no less than ten of its members are validly nominated candidates for the election.

How much can candidates spend on the election?

Each candidate who contests a general election has an expenditure limit, broadly based on the number of registered voters in the constituency. The limit is overseen by the Electoral and Boundaries Commission.

WHO CAN VOTE IN A GENERAL ELECTION?

Belize has universal adult suffrage, i.e. you are entitled to vote in a general election if you are a Belizean citizen, and will be 18 or older on polling day.

Elections are by secret ballot. Ballot papers are anonymous, to prevent undue influence on voters, and the ballot boxes are sealed to prevent electoral fraud.

An elector can vote with or without a Voters' Identification Card if his name appears on the Voters' List and/or has a Record Card in the binder. See the following examples.

WHERE DO I VOTE

Each constituency is divided into a number of polling districts, each of which has a polling station. If you are on the electoral register, you should have received a polling card through the post which has your name, polling number and the address of your polling station printed on it. The polling card is for your information only, but taking it to the polling station can speed up the process.

Most polling stations are in public buildings such as schools, community centres, and churches, but other buildings can be used on request. Voting takes place on Election Day from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

POLLING DAY
On Polling Day or Election Day, Belizean vote not for a Prime Minister, but for candidates running in each of the 30 single-seat constituencies throughout Belize. A party needs to win 16 constituencies to command a majority in the House of Representatives, which allows it to choose a Prime Minister, formally appointed by the Governor-General. Once selected, the prime minister begins the task of forming a government.

Voting is by secret ballot, and the only people allowed in the polling station are the presiding officer (who is in charge), the polling clerks, the duty police officers, the candidates, their election agents, polling agents, and the voters. Just before the poll opens, the presiding officer shows the ballot boxes to those at the polling station to prove that they are empty. The boxes are then locked and sealed.

The law governing election stipulates that the hours of voting are from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Polling officials – one Presiding Officer and two Poll Clerks – are required to be at the polling station at 6:00 a.m. to post up the required election signs and notices and to ensure the polling station is set up for voting. At 6:45 a.m. the Presiding Officer shows the empty ballot box to the attending candidate agents and any other authorised witnesses. The ballot box is then locked and ready to receive ballots. The process is summarised below:

In the polling station voters are directed to the presiding officer or polling clerk, who asks the voter his or her name, checks that it is on the register, and places a mark against the register entry. This records that the voter has received a ballot paper but does not show which one. The officer or clerk gives the ballot paper an official mark before handing the paper to the voter. The official mark is intended to show that the papers placed in the ballot box are genuine.The ballot paper lists the names of the candidates in alphabetical order.

After the elector has been given the ballot paper,the elector shows forefinger of right hand-left hand if no right hand. The elector then dips forefinger to joint in indelible ink. The Poll Clerk then marks name off the Voters' List.

The elector is then directed to the booth where voting takes place, which is screened to maintain secrecy. The voter marks the ballot paper with a cross in the box opposite the name of the candidate of his or her choice, and fold the paper to conceal the vote before placing it in the ballot box.

Image credit: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-2015-32584350

A paper that is spoiled by mistake must be returned to the presiding officer. If the presiding officer is satisfied that the soiling was accidental, another paper is provided, and the first is canceled. At the end of the voting the presiding officer delivers those spoilt papers to the returning officer. The ballot boxes are then sealed and delivered to the central point - the Counting Station, where the count is to take place.
COUNTING THE BALLOTS

All ballot boxes are taken to a central place in each constituency where counting takes place. Each ballot box is emptied, the papers mixed up and the votes counted by teams of helpers. This is done in the presence of the candidates. Generally, two ballot boxes were counted simultaneously. Each counting team consisted of four counting officers: one to unfold and call out the vote on the ballot, one to stack the ballots according to the vote and bundle in units of 25, and two counting officers to record the votes on tally sheets.

When all the votes have been counted the results are announced by the Returning officer. Depending on the time it takes to bring all of the ballot boxes to the count and the result of the count, the final result may be announced before midnight.

Recounts

If the result is close then either candidate can demand a recount. The Returning Officer will advise the candidates of the figures and sanction a recount. Recounts can continue until both candidates and the Returning Officer are satisfied with the result.

AFTER THE RESULTS

When all of the results are known the Governor-General will usually invite the leader of the party winning the most seats in the House of Representatives to be Prime Minister and to form a Government.

The Prime Minister will appoint several members of his party for both Houses to become members of the Cabinet.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and not fewer than five other Ministers. Ministers are appointed by the Governor-General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister, from among the members of the two Houses. The Governor-General may also appoint Parliamentary Secretaries to assist Ministers in the discharge or their functions. | Learn more »

The Opposition

The party that wins the second-largest number of seats in Parliament comprises the opposition, which forms a "shadow" cabinet poised to assume power at any time during the ruling government's five-year term.

The Governor-General appoints as Leader of the Opposition the person who, in his/her judgment, is best able to command the support of a majority of those members of the House who do not support the Government. | Learn more »

The New Parliament

A few days after the general election the House of Representatives will assemble in preparation for the new Parliament to begin. All MPs must be sworn in by taking an oath of allegiance or making an affirmation, and must sign the official register. The Speaker and Deputy Speaker are customarily selected by a vote of the siting members of parliament. | Learn more »

The Senate

The Senate has 12 members, all appointed by the Governor-General , six on the advice of the Prime Minister, three on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, and and one each on the advice of the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Better Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee.

Senators may also be appointed as Ministers or Parliamentary Secretaries. The Senate meets chiefly when there is business from the House of Representatives. The Senate is referred to as the Upper House. | Learn more »

BY-ELECTIONS

A by-election takes place when a seat in the House of Representatives becomes vacant between general elections. If there are several vacant seats then a number of by-elections can take place on the same day.

Reasons for by-elections

A seat becomes vacant during the lifetime of a Parliament either when an MP resigns from Parliament, for example to take up a job which by law cannot be done by an MP, or because an MP has died. The law also allows a seat to be declared vacant because of a Member's bankruptcy, mental illness or conviction for a serious criminal offence.

A by-election does not automatically take place if an MP changes political party.


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Key
PUP = People's United Party; UDP=United Democratic Party; IND = Inpendent candidate; * Incumbent; ** Political Leader
Sources
Elections & Boundaries Department, Government of Belize
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