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Brief Political History and Dynamics of Belize

Politics of Belize takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy, where by Queen Elizabeth II serves as head of state and the prime minister is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Belize. The legislature, the National Assembly, is bicameral, composed of the Senate and House of Representatives.

The Mayan civilization spread into the area of Belize between 1500 BC and AD 300 and flourished until about AD 1200. Several major archeological sites--notably Caracol, Lamanai, Lubaantun, Altun Ha, and Xunantunich--reflect the advanced civilization and much denser population of that period. European contact began in 1502 when Christopher Columbus sailed along the coast. The first recorded European settlement was established by shipwrecked English seamen in 1638. Over the next 150 years, more English settlements were established. This period also was marked by piracy, indiscriminate logging, and sporadic attacks by Indians and neighboring Spanish settlers.

Great Britain first sent an official representative to the area in the late 18th century, but Belize was not formally termed the "Colony of British Honduras" until 1840. It became a crown colony in 1862. Subsequently, several constitutional changes were enacted to expand representative government. Full internal self-government under a ministerial system was granted in January 1964. The official name of the territory was changed from British Honduras to Belize in June 1973, and full independence was granted on 21 September 1981.

The genesis of party politics in Belize was the formation of the People's United Party (PUP) in 1950. It won the first election contested after universal adult suffrage was introduced in 1954.The PUP, led by George Price, dominated politics for 30 years, until the United Democratic Party (UDP), formed by a coalition of small opposition parties in 1973, won the 1984 election under the leadership of Manuel Esquivel. Politics in Belize has since been dominated by these two parties, though the 2008 election saw three relatively new parties contesting.

In the general election of August 1998 the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) won 26 of the 29 seats in the House of Representatives and Said Musa became Prime Minister. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) took three seats and Esquivel handed over the party leadership to Dean Barrow.

For the first time since independence, the ruling party was returned to power in the March 2003 general election. The PUP took 22 seats to the UDP’s seven, and Musa resumed as Prime Minister.

In the course of their second term, the Government has been plagued by accusations of corruption and fiscal mismanagement and came under increasing pressure in the face of large budget deficits, and a dramatically increasing national debt.

In January 2005, the government increased tax rates on commodities and property and riots broke out. Civil unrest continued until April with trade unions and government opponents demanding Musa’s resignation. This and allegations of corruption in the PUP government proved decisive in the subsequent elections.

At the municipal Election held in March 2006, the PUP lost heavily winning only three of the available 67 seats. The UDP won the remaining 64 despite two other parties and four independent candidates having contested.

In national elections on 7 February 2008, the United Democratic Party (UDP) prevailed over the incumbent People's United Party (PUP). The UDP won 25 of the 31 seats in the House of Representatives, while the PUP won the other six seats. UDP leader Dean Barrow replaced PUP leader Said Musa to become the country’s first Prime Minister of African descent.

The general election in March 2012 was again won by Barrow and the UDP with 17 seats, the PUP taking 14. The UDP won a third consecutive term in the March 2015 general election, winning 19 of 31 seats.

   Belize Country Profile
   Belize Government Structure
   Belize Election Basics
   The Parliament of Bermuda
   Political History and Dynamics
   Belize Heads of Government
   Electoral Legislation
   Belize Timeline
   Teacher Resources
   Glossary of Election Terms
  People's United Party
  United Democratic Party
 PARTY 2015 MANIFESTOS learn more
Download PUP 2015 Manifesto
Download UDP 2015 Manifesto
Download Belize Knowledge Centre
Learn more Belize Heads of State
Learn more Belize Heads of Government
Learn more Belize Leaders of the Opposition
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PUP = People's United Party; UDP=United Democratic Party; IND = Inpendent candidate; * Incumbent; ** Political Leader
Elections & Boundaries Department, Government of Belize
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