In contrast to most Central American nations, elections in Belize are notable for their regularity, adherence to democratic principles, and an absence of violence. The Representation of the People Ordinance and the constitution regulate electoral procedures. The constitution established an independent Elections and Boundaries Commission and charged it with the registration of voters, the conduct of elections, establishment of election districts, and all other related matters. The five members of the commission serve five-year terms of office. The governor general appoints all five members in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, who consults with the leader of the opposition before nominating the members. National Assembly members and others who hold public office are barred from appointment.
The constitution guarantees the right to vote to every citizen over the age of eighteen who meets the provisions of the Representation of the People Ordinance. Voting is not compulsory. Employers are required to give their employees time to vote and to pay them for the time they are away at the polls. Polls are open from 7:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. on election day, but anyone in line by 6:00 P.M. may vote, no matter how long it may take. The sale of liquor is barred while the polls are open. Certain forms of political campaigning, including television advertisements, political speeches, and the distribution of political buttons, posters, banners, or flags are also prohibited. Canvassing of voters is permitted, except within a 100-meter zone around each polling station. Within this zone, voters may not be disturbed, voter-to-voter conversation is barred, and only election officials may answer questions. The constitution mandates that "votes be cast in a secret ballot."
The Elections and Boundaries Commission maintains a registry of voters and publishes this list for public inspection at its offices and at polling stations. For the September 1989 general election, there were 82,556 registered voters, a 28 percent increase over registration levels for the previous general election in 1984. Of the registered voters in 1989, 72 percent actually voted, a slight decrease from 1984, when 75 percent of the electorate cast ballots. Municipal elections attract a lower turnout. For example, less than 48 percent of the electorate cast ballots in the Belize City municipal elections in 1989.
The right forefinger of voters is marked with indelible ink to help prevent multiple voting. No provision is made for absentee voting, although certain people (for example, members of the BDF, police officers on duty outside their voting district, and persons employed in essential services), may vote by proxy.
Candidates for the House of Representatives are elected from single-member districts. The candidate with the largest number of votes wins the election; in the event of a tie, a new election is held in that district within three months. This type of electoral system usually strengthens the hand of the winning party in relation to its strength at the polls because a party winning narrow victories in a number of districts may obtain a larger majority in the House of Representatives than its share of the popular vote. In 1979, for example, the PUP and the UDP split the vote 52 percent to 47 percent, but the PUP carried thirteen of the eighteen House seats. Similarly, in the 1984 election, the vote was split 53.3 percent to 43.3 percent between the UDP and the PUP, but the UDP won twenty-one of the twenty-eight House seats.
Electoral Process since Independence
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