Senator Elena Smith is the new President of country's most powerful union, the BNTU. That's the result that came out just a few minutes ago, and right now she is still doing her victory interview with the media, which we'll have for you a little later.
But, first to the business of the 57th Annual BNTU Convention. The two day event was held in San Roman, Corozal, at the Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico auditorium. The main business was the election of a new executive. It's a big deal because for the first time in 9 years, the strongest union in the country will have a new leader after 3-term president, Luke Palacio, steps aside. 3 candidates stepped up hoping to take his place; they are Mario Mesh, the President of the Corozal Rural Branch; Troy Coleman, the President of the Stann Creek Branch; and Elena Smith, the serving Labour and Civil Society Senator with a 20-year membership in the union.
It's been a long day for the teachers and our news team in Corozal, and it took a little over two hours to count the 630 votes. Counting started just after 4:00 pm, and just before news time Smith was declared the winner.
You'll hear her victory interview shortly, but while that is finishing, we have snippets of the pre-election speeches that each candidate gave to try and win over the teachers.
In no particular order, Here's Mario Mesh's pitch to the teachers:
Mario Mesh, President - BNTU Corozal Rural Branch
"As Mr. Brother Palacio steps down as president today, we must be thankful for him for dedication and a job well done. So we should applaud our brother and national president Mr. Luke Palacio."
"The time has come now to elect a new leader, a leader who shall be the voice to protect, echo and maintain a proactive position on national issues, regional and international interest that will impact the overall development of this nation, especially the teachers. As an independent sovereign country, we know that what happens and what does not happened. We must now choose a new leader, a leader who shall fulfil all our memberships' expectations. A leader who can uphold the title of teacher and most importantly, the interest of BNTU as a union wholeheartedly. For this reason and more I, your humble servant have taken the opportunity to postulate myself as a willing, trustful and determine candidate to serve you in the capacity of national president."
"As a current president and head teacher, I have learned to listen and comprehend the different needs and issues affecting our members. I fully understand that teachers support is vital for achieving our goals. Because of this we can all be proud that we are BNTU, the most respected union in this country."
Now, here is our interview with Stann Creek Candidate Troy Coleman, and his explanation to us as the why the teachers should choose him.
Troy Coleman, President - BNTU Stann Creek Branch
"I will not be Luke Palacio, I will be Troy Coleman and I will fight. I am a warrior. I will fight hard and I will fight smart, not only for the country of Belize, but for the teachers who are suffering injustices every day in the classrooms."
"I know for a fact that for many years we have been working to see how we can improve governance in Belize. How we can ensure that the people who we elect into government are able to be accountable to our people. We have fought a good fight. However now to balance that off we need to be more aggressive in our fight to ensure that the teachers who are suffering with issues to be taken care of. We need to fight that aggressively. For example, I can tell you there are teachers across this country who have not been getting increments for years. Increment is a yearly thing. Who is responsible for that? We need to find out and cut it off immediately and that is one of the things I want to fight. There are other issues. I feel that I am connected to my membership in the Stann Creek District, because I am one of those presidents who visits the schools. I visit my teachers where they work to see their conditions and that is the kind of leadership I want to bring to the BNTU; I want to visit my schools, I want to visit my teachers, I want to listen to their views, I want to listen to their issues and I want to connect with them. So that I know when I hear the name I can say oh this is the issue, I need to work on it. So there must be a connection. I think for a while there has been some level of disconnect between the leadership and the members of BNTU."
"I have served my teachers. I will continue to serve my teachers. The only endorsement that is important to me in this endeavor is the endorsement from the members that have wish to serve after today. Everything else is not important to me at this time."
Finally, we now turn to the winner Senator Elena Smith, and the comments she made to her union colleagues as to why she is the best of the 3 candidates for the job:
Elena Smith, Senator for Labour and Civil Society
"If you all elect me to be the next president of BNTU, I will ensure that together all of us, we will reach. What does that mean? We are going to re-energize our membership within our union. We were very strong a few months ago when we were on those 11 days of strike and I believe that as members of the strongest union in this country, that we must continue to have that energy. We must not give up that energy, we must never have a lull in our union, because that is the time when those persons you heard about this morning who are here for their political reasons, that's the time when they try to get among us. So we will not stay still."
"I am going to work on us educating ourselves as members of this union. A lot of times we do not fully know what our rights are, because a lot of times people say that we don't like to read. We want to change that. I am going to ensure that we use technology, because we have a lot of young teachers here who are into technology and so we can reach them, we can help them to educate themselves by using the technological instruments that they themselves are aware of, that they themselves use."
"I will also ensure, along with all my other members around the table, that our education committee becomes extremely active. That is an important committee, because if we have a functioning education committee our members can be educated and our committee can put forth training that you the members are asking for. What we will do will be based on what your needs are and what you ask of us. I am going to advocate for every one of you. It doesn't matter which branch you come from, it doesn't matter who you vote for, it doesn't what ethnicity you belong to. Through my strong leadership I will advocate for every member of BNTU."
"You have known me for many years. I have been on my executive for 20 consecutive years serving on the Belize branch. I have been tried and I have been tested, but you can see today that I am standing, standing tall and I have nowhere to go from here, but taller, so it doesn't matter what they do. I will always be a member of BNTU and I will always work for you the members of BNTU whether I am in my branch or I am the president. So I ask you today members, give me your support. When you get in that line and you are going to elect your president, elect someone who is experience. Elect somebody who is knowledgeable. Elect somebody who has all of the abilities that they can move you forward."
And that's the pitch that worked. Elena Smith was elected with the following count: Elena Smith 349 votes, Troy Coleman 147 votes, Mario Mesh 140 votes - meaning it's a landslide, she got more votes than her two opponents combined. We'll have her victory interview a little later on.