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Referendum Act amended for simple majority to rule Print E-mail
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Written by By Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 19 January 2017 00:00

The House of Representatives has approved an amendment to the Referendum Act which removes the mandate for sixty percent of the electorate to turn out for the process to be deemed valid. The new law requires only a simple majority from participating voters to decide the outcome of a referendum. The law passed with 16 votes on Friday, January 13. Nine of the Opposition members voted against the amendment, five parliamentarians were absent and one was on suspension.

The Opposition voted against the bill because they see it as an appeasement to the Guatemalans, a country that has only been hostile towards us, said Rt. Hon. Said Musa. Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington responded, “Every advanced democracy in the world, when dealing with referendum, use the simple majority; and that is the norm when we have General Elections.” In order to fully appreciate the need for the amendment, it is important to review how we got to where we are.

Belize and Guatemala were scheduled to hold simultaneous referenda on October 6, 2013. There were several reasons pointed out why that did not proceed as planned. Those include financial constraints and local political activities in both countries. The OAS and the group of friendly nations encouraged both countries to work on a date for the exercise to take place. No date has been recommended as yet and it now seems that Guatemala is not at all thrilled about the idea of simultaneous referenda. Their excuse was that they reviewed our Constitution and are concerned that they may invest millions of dollars in an exercise that may turn out to be a waste if the sixty percent threshold is not reached in the Belize referendum. The international community had also been concerned about that threshold. In order to level the playing field for the Belizean and Guatemalan people, our Government decided to amend the Referendum Act so that a simple majority’s decision will be upheld. National elections are expensive exercises for any country and it would be unfortunate to waste resources on a process that may not even be binding.

During the debate on the amendment, the Leader of the Opposition expressed his skepticism about Guatemala’s intention to even hold a referendum. “All indications are that Guatemala will hold no referendum. They are asking the international community for about US$50 million so they can hold their referendum and all indications are that they are not going to get that.” Prime Minister Barrow said he will not allow Guatemala to waste Belize’s time. “As far as I am concerned, we aren’t holding any referendum until they hold theirs.” 

Belize is now one step closer to resolving the unfounded Guatemalan Claim but it doesn’t seem like referenda will be held anytime soon.