- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 11, 2020

PUNTA GORDA, Belize (AP) - Belizeans voted for a new government Wednesday amid concerns over a stagnant economy and rising coronavirus infections, with the ruling party seeking an unprecedented fourth successive term in office.

Polls closed Wednesday evening and vote counting was expected to begin immediately with results expected by midnight local time. Barring any extenuating circumstances, the new prime minister should be sworn in by midday Thursday.

The incumbent United Democratic Party is led by Patrick Faber as its prime ministerial candidate following the retirement from electoral politics of longtime Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

The main opposition People’s United Party, meanwhile, is seeking to get back into office under the leadership of John Briceno, who served twice as deputy prime minister in the Said Musa administration of 1998-2008.

Thirty-one seats in the House of Representatives are up for grabs in the ninth parliamentary elections since Belize became independent in 1981.

The Belize Election and Boundaries Department, which is responsible for conducting Wednesday’s poll, said 182,815 Belizeans are eligible to cast ballots.

Voting officials plan enforce social distancing and masks are required at polling stations. No gathering will be allowed, so people will go inside, vote and head back home.

There is a curfew on election night from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. Thursday. No one is allowed out in public, except media workers and the candidates along with two or three assistants who must be approved prior to Wednesday night.

The major issues in the campaign leading up to the elections were the pandemic and the economy.

Both major political parties pledged to dedicate a lot of resources and energy into “flattening” the curve of coronavirus infections, even as the death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise in Belize. There have been 4,230 confirmed cases and 71 deaths, according to the government.

The United Democrats propose to build more schools and health facilities, institute government reforms and continue the party’s poverty-reduction initiatives.

“Your United Democratic Party is ready to build on our accomplishments throughout Belize, and on the foundation laid. We stand ready to lead Belize through recovery and into prosperity,” Faber posted on his Facebook account. A bitter leadership challenge within the party earlier this year appeared to have been smoothed over.

The People’s United Party proposed, among other things, to fast track an $80 million stimulus package to get the Belize economy going again after the collapse brought on by the pandemic.

The party said it also planned to pump money into the health system to boost the response to the coronavirus and ensure that all the systems are functioning properly to deal with the current crisis.

There were several allegations of corruption leveled at the Barrow administration in the waning months of the campaign, including purported theft and misappropriation of public funds as well as unjust use of public offices by United Democrat politicians and those seeking public office.

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