Petition by 10% of voters
Issue of writ of referendum
The Referendum Act allows the electorate to trigger a process that can lead to the holding of a referendum. A referendum will be called if:
- the National Assembly passes a resolution declaring a particular issue to be of sufficient national importance that it should be submitted to the electorate;
- 10% of registered voters present a petition that an issue is of sufficient public importance to be put to a referendum; or
- the prime minister so requests, where any law provides for the holding of a referendum on a specific issue or matter.
In addition, a proposed settlement with Guatemala to resolve the Belize-Guatemala dispute would automatically prompt a referendum.
Where a referendum is called by a petition of 10% of the electorate, such petition must contain:
- the full name of each voter;
- his or her date of birth and place of residence;
- the electoral division in which he or she is registered; and
- such other information as the governor general may prescribe through regulations issued under the Referendum Act.
Once the governor general receives the petition, he is required by law to refer the petition to the chief elections officer immediately so that the officer may verify the signatures of the petitioners and certify that at least 10% of registered voters have appended their signatures to the petition. A referendum may also be held in a specific district or area of Belize; however, in such a case the petition must be supported by 25% of the registered voters in the district or area.
Once the chief elections officer receives the petition from the governor general, he must proceed expeditiously in the verification process and is mandated by law to return the petition to the governor general as soon as practicable, but no later than two months from the date of receipt of the petition. The chief elections officer must also send to the governor general certification as to whether the petition has been duly signed by the requisite number of voters. If it is found that a person has forged a signature on a petition, or his or her signature appears more than once, that person shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to BZ$1,000 or imprisonment of up to one year.
The governor general shall issue a writ of referendum to the returning officers of the electoral divisions of Belize (or of the particular district) within 30 days of receiving:
- the National Assembly's resolution declaring the need for a referendum;
- the certificate from the chief elections officer showing that the petition has been signed by the requisite number of voters (10% or 25%, as the case may be); or
- a request from the prime minister regarding the legal provision requiring a referendum or in respect of the Belize-Guatemala dispute.
The day named in the writ for the holding of a referendum shall be no less than 30 days after the issue of the writ. Once the writ has been received, each returning officer shall proceed to hold the referendum in accordance with the Referendum Act and the directions of the Elections and Boundaries Commission. The only people qualified to vote in a referendum are registered voters qualified to vote under the Representation of the People Act at the date of the referendum.
Ultimately, no referendum is valid unless 60% of the registered voters in the whole country (or the particular district, as the case may be) have voted. The issue submitted to referendum shall be decided by simple majority of the votes cast. The chief elections officer shall be responsible for issuing a certificate stating the results of the referendum.
The purpose of the Referendum Act is to provide a mechanism for direct participation of the electorate in matters of sufficient national importance. To date, two referendums have been held: one on awarding city status to Belmopan and the other on an elected senate.
For further information on this topic please contact Christopher Coye at Courtenay Coye LLP by telephone (+1 345 814 2013), fax (+1 345 949 4901) or email ([email protected]).