Campaigning kicks off for Belize snap election in November

BELIZE CITY (Reuters) - Official campaigning began on Friday for Belize's general election, with Prime Minister Dean Barrow going to the polls ahead of schedule amid signs the opposition is regrouping and Venezuela's oil largesse could start to wane.

Across the country, potential candidates gathered to register their candidacy for the Nov. 4 election, when voters will pick representatives for Belize's 31-seat parliament.

A small English-speaking country on the Caribbean coast of Central America, Belize was not due to vote until February 2017. But Barrow, of the United Democratic Party (UDP), opted to call snap elections on Sept. 28 in search of a record third term.

Worries about the future of Venezuela's Petrocaribe programme, which provides Caribbean and Latin American country members with cheap oil, often in exchange for other goods, may have forced Barrow's hand, said political analyst Glenn Tillett.

"The main opposition has been in a state of disarray for a few years now, but they're starting to get their act together," he said. "(Barrow) wants to beat them to the punch."

The UDP and the opposition People's United Party (PUP), led by Francis Fonseca, will each put forward 31 candidates, while the Belize Progressive Party, an amalgamation of several smaller groups, is also expected to field contenders.

A UDP win would give the 64-year-old Barrow a third term, a record for any leader since the nation of some 330,000 people became independent in 1981. There were no term limits until Barrow amended the constitution during his first period in office, setting the maximum at three 5-year spells.

The economy, corruption, and an ongoing territorial spat with neighbouring Guatemala were likely to dominate the campaign, which the battle-hardened UDP, with its better funding, currently looked most likely to win, Tillett said.

(Reporting by Jose Sanchez and Gabriel Stargardter; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Richard Chang)