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Politics of Belize

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Politics of Belize

The political system of Belize is fairly new. Belize gained its independence from Britain on September 21, 1981, and the Constitution of Belize was born with this newly autonomous state. Since its independence, Belize has remained a commonwealth of the British Monarch and owes allegiance to the queen of England. Belize's government is modeled after the British Parliamentary system. Although the country of Belize has been independent from Britain since 1981, the Caribbean country maintains many of the British practices and procedures in its political, governmental and judicial systems. The Federal Parliamentary government of Belize is comprised of two unified branches of government: the executive and the legislative branches.

The Prime Minister and the cabinet make up the executive branch. They are chosen from the majority party in the Lower House of the legislature. The Prime Minister is the head of the cabinet. A governor-general, appointed by the United Kingdom monarch also possesses some appointing power in Parliament. The governor-general is an extension of the Royal Family, and his/her duties are rather superficial and more of a formality. According to Latin America Profiled, the UK appointed Governor-General of Belize is Sir Colville Young. Said Musa is the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs of the Belize's Parliament. Those who Prime Minister Musa appointed to his cabinet include: George Price, John Briceno, Ralph Fonseca, José Coye, Maxwell Samuels, Cordel Hyde, Richard "Dickie" Bradley, Marcial Mes, García Balderamose Oolores, Ruben Campos, Jorge Espat, Godfrey Smith, and B.Q. Pitts as the Speaker. This cabinet works on projects ranging from foreign affairs, healthcare, to civil society agendas. These representatives are chosen because of their experience and their party identification. It is expected that these officials will produce results, which are conducive to the opinions of the constituents, as well as to the loyalty of their party.

A bicameral National Assembly forms the legislative branch of Parliament. The two branches of this bicameral body are called the House of Representatives and the Senate. There are twenty-nine elected members in the House of Representatives and eight appointed members in the Senate. Administrators in the House of Representatives are elected by universal suffrage. Five of the officials of the Senate are appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the Prime Minister, two by the leader of the less powerful party and one by the Belize Advisory Council. General elections are mandatory in five-year intervals; however, the cabinet has the authority to call elections earlier. Once officials are elected into their offices they make necessary administrative appointments. For example, the newly elected Prime Minister will advise the governor general on his five appointments to the Senate. The legal voting age in Belize is eighteen years old.

There are two major political parties in Belize. The United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People's United Party (PUP) are the major parties in Belize, with the UDP as the majority party in Parliament since 1993. The leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister. The UDP has a conservative platform that stresses the need for foreign investment and private-sector business solutions. The PUP takes a social-democratic standpoint on issues. The PUP does not fully support a strong centralized government in Belize. In the 1989 elections, the PUP ran under the slogan, "Belizeans First!" After regaining power in Parliament, the PUP abolished the UDP's secret police, reduced the government's control over the media, ended the practice of selling Belizean citizenship, and abolished the law that made libel a criminal offense. The People's United Party is concerned with civil rights and the protection of its citizens' rights and freedoms.

Belize is divided into the six administrative districts of Belize City, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek and Toledo. These six districts are governed locally by town boards in which the citizens of each district elect a seven-member council. The one exception is Belize City, which is governed by a nine-member city council. "Locally, there are city and town councils, while some traditional Maya villages are led by mayors, or alcaldes."

The judicial system in Belize is independent from the executive and legislative branches of government, and it is appointed by the crown. The law of Belize mimics the British case law procedures and principles. Much like the United States, Belize follows a case law, in which local legislation is augmented through precedent. The case law found in the 1981 Constitution of Belize provides a wide range of fundamental rights and freedoms through the judiciary. Individuals' privacy, family and property are all protected under the Constitution. The Constitution prohibits cruel and degrading treatment, or punishment, of any citizen. For example, criminal defendants are protected in their right to presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, and appeal and public trials. The judiciary branch includes the Magistrate's Courts, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal. Eight Caribbean leaders (Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) met in Kingston, Jamaica on June 9, 2003 to ratify a treaty establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The CCJ is to be used for foreign affairs matters, such as trade disputes.

In the matter of foreign affairs, Belize was admitted to the UN four days after gaining independence from Britain. Belize also belongs to international organizations such as Caricom and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Belize also has an armed forces division with 1,050 active personnel and 700 reserves. There is an infantry battalion, maritime wing, and an air wing. In 2000/2001, Belize spent 1.9% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on military spending. As the statistics show, military spending is not a major concern of the Belizean government.

The Belizean government is based on the system of its former imperial power. The parliamentary government has proved to work well since 1981. Belize has proven to be capable of self-rule and successful in joining major international organization. These organizations have also recognized Belize's success as an autonomous state. Under the Commonwealth wing of the UK, Belize has managed to organize and mobilize its efforts to establish a strong and prosperous state. Belize has established strong trade relations as well as diplomatic ties to foreign states to ensure its own prosperity.

Krutzinna,Benjamin, eds. "Let's Go Travel Guide: Central America," 70.
Barry, Tom, ed. "Central America Inside Out," 53.
Turner, Barry, ed. "Latin America Profiled," 186.
Ibid, 185.
Barry, Tom, ed. "Central America Inside Out," 53.
Ibid, 53.
Gall, Timothy, eds. "Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations," 47.
Barry, Tom, ed. "Central America Inside Out," 56.
Ibid, 55.
Ibid, 55.
Ibid, 55.
Ibid, 53.
Krutzinna, Benjamin, eds. "Let's Go Travel Guide: Central America," 70.
Gall, Timothy, eds. "Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations," 47.
Ibid, 47.
Ibid, 47.
Ibid, 47.
Ibid, 47.

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