Author:Young, Harold A.


The institutionalization of parties and the party system is an integral part of developing stable and lasting democracies. Allen Hicken defines a party system as an "enduring pattern of or sequence of intra-party organization and inter-party electoral competition." (1) This definition moves the discussion beyond rules and regulations that frame the electoral system to the roles of political actors, party organization and strategies, and how parties interact with each other in electoral competitions. Political parties want to win elections, and recruiting candidates who are most likely to succeed is important. Given that a primary function of political parties is the election of candidates, does the theory that experienced candidates will be more successful in electoral contests than candidates who have never held office hold true in electoral systems outside the United States? (2) Are race/ethnicity and funding also factors in Belize?

I approach this issue by looking at municipal and national elections in Belize from 1965 to 2008. Belize has six administrative districts currently divided into a total of 31 electoral constituencies. Since 1965, there have always been two major parties nominating candidates in all constituencies. My hypothesis is that factors that have been found to predict US election outcomes also influence elections in Belize. I have compiled data to test the theory that a candidate who has won a municipal election is more likely to succeed in a national election. This research contributes to the knowledge base about whether race/ethnicity and campaign funding influence electoral success in small democracies that have experienced uninterrupted interparty electoral competition over a significant period. (3)

From 1964 to 2008, nine sets of municipal elections and ten national elections were held in Belize. My question was whether the theory that experienced candidates (those who had already been successful on the municipal level) are more likely to succeed in a national election is generalizable to the National Assembly in Belize. This research tests the generalizability of a theory that has long been established in the United States and provides insight into the competitiveness of parties and party systems in established democracies with two dominant parties.


Starting in 1948, former British colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean began using a version of the Westminster model of government. This system can generally be characterized by single-member districts elected by a first-past-the-post plurality vote to a lower house of a national assembly led by a prime minister and an unelected upper house or senate. The English-speaking Caribbean countries inherited this model of government. Unlike many other British colonies, the Caribbean countries have each had virtually uninterrupted democratically elected governments since Jamaica became the first independent English-speaking Caribbean nation in 1964. "Belize has six districts with thirty-one constituencies. The term national election refers to the election of members of Belize's National Assembly, which consists of a Senate of eleven appointed members and a House of Representatives that has thirty-one elected members. While there are no elected officials at the district level, the population of each district is used to determine the size of the constituencies in the district's boundaries. The term constituencies represents the electoral boundaries from which a single representative is elected using the first-past-the-post system to a seat in the House of Representative in the National Assembly. Party nominees in the constituencies are referred to as standard-bearers.

Municipalities are governed by councils that until 2000 lacked much financial autonomy. Monies were budgeted to the municipalities in the form of subventions from the national government. This was rectified with the granting of the power to collect property tax with municipal limits. The term municipal elections also refers to elections in cities, towns, and villages (the 192 villages have very limited financial autonomy and are not part of this research). Elections to seats on municipal councils are usually held within eighteen months of national elections, or roughly every four years, and village council elections are every two years. The party that dominates in municipal elections almost always has the advantage in the subsequent national election.

The political system of Belize includes both municipal and national elections that and approximate the political structure in the United States. This made the two countries a good pairing for testing political science theories that originate in the United States, especially given the types of data that are available for Belize. Both the United States and Belize have two major national parties plus minor or regional parties and independent candidates (who not affiliated with any political party) that participate in the party electoral system. In both countries, the two major parties engage in closely contested elections at the national level. In the United States, state, local, and municipal elections aren't always closely contested but turnout is traditionally high in years when the president is on the ballot. In contrast, in Belize, voter turnout is higher in municipal elections that precede national elections. Belize experienced forty-five years of electoral history that included three municipal and four national elections before it achieved independence in 1981, then six national and seven municipal elections by 2008. During that time, parties have emerged, merged, or dissolved (see Table 1). The two city and seven town governments have benefited from the devolution of a wide range of functions and responsibilities, including property tax collection; the management of business licenses, motor vehicle registration and licensing; and services such as waste disposal and road maintenance. This level of autonomy and responsibility has resulted in vibrant and highly political municipal elections. While some constituencies merely overlap with a city or town, some entire constituencies are located within a city. Each constituency is totally located within a specific district. Belize also holds 192 village council elections that I have not included in this research. Anecdotal evidence suggests that candidates who have achieved won political office in cities and towns are likely to succeed in national elections. Also important for this study is the fact that detailed and accurate election and population data are readily available.

This electoral profile contrasts starkly with that of the United States (see Table 2), which has had 235 years of election history and is the second largest democracy in the world. While the two countries are very different in terms of land area, population, wealth, and several other dimensions, they use similar electoral systems for their national legislatures. Both countries have single-member districts in which the elected representative wins a plurality of votes and national elections are dominated by two major parties. In addition, much smaller regional or local parties and independent candidates participate in elections. The viability of the candidates of the two dominant parties in each country supports the M + 1 rule. For districts that elect one member based on a simple plurality, M + 1 refers to the candidate who needs only one vote more than the runner-up to be declared the winner of the election. (5)


Over time, candidates in both countries have become less dependent on parties. For example, candidates do more of their own fundraising. (6) Despite the loosening of the financial ties between candidates and political parties, the role of parties in selecting candidates to run for elected office remains an important function in modern democracies. (7) However, in the mid-1960s, Joseph A. Schlesinger noted that in the United States, political parties have less to do with selecting candidates and instead focus on providing a framework for candidates. (8) In other words, party officials have less control but the party still provides the platform of issues and positions and manage the process for selecting the primary winner. In other words, there is a relationship between the goal of candidates to win and the goal of the party to govern. (9) To fully understand the role of political parties, it is important to understand the ambitions and motivations of candidates. This is less true in the UK, where the role of parties and party identification is much stronger but conflicting ambitions exist within the major parties. (10) Arguably, this dynamic applies to Belize. Robert D. Putnam, identifies five central issues that influence which candidates parties recruit channels, gatekeeping, credentials, turnover and succession, and consideration of how recruitment patterns affect the nature and politics of the elite. (11)

In this article, I focus on the variable of credentials, which I define as previous electoral success. The ambitions of people who enter politics vary: some seek one term in a specific office, some want to stay in office for as many terms as possible, and some intend to seek higher office after winning an election at a lower level. (12) This article focuses on candidates in the latter category: those for whom electoral success at the municipal level is a steppingstone to success in a national election.

Recruiting candidates is a major function of political parties. In a freely functioning political system, there are many ways to identify electable candidates. Often potential candidates can be found in political parties, government bureaucracies, educational institutions, labor unions, religious organizations, and local governments. (13) Gary C. Jacobson has found that candidates who have already been elected...

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