(by Mindy Belz, WorldMag.com) – Hondurans went to the polls in surprising numbers on Sunday, electing Porfirio Lobo, a wealthy rancher from the conservative National Party, to succeed former President Manuel Zelaya, who was arrested and turned out of office June 28. In voting for the 61-year-old Lobo, voters rejected Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos, who represented the party of both the ousted Zelaya and the interim government led by Roberto Micheletti. For many Honduran voters, Lobo’s victory represents not only a break with the recent past but a triumph of the country’s democratic system and its 27-year-old constitution.
“We won. Just by having the freedom to vote, we won,” said a hotel desk clerk in the capital city of Tegucigalpa.
“They tried to build a Berlin Wall and Honduras tore it down,” said a Bolivian member of parliament on hand to observe the elections.
According to Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, those reactions reflected the “incredible excitement” of most voters. Wright, who skipped Thanksgiving in the United States to serve as an official international election observer in Honduras, told me, “Hondurans are not just electing a president. Their participation is a vote for freedom over Chavez-style socialism.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close friend of Zelaya, is widely believed to have exerted his authoritarian influence over the former Honduran president. Earlier this year, Zelaya sought a rewrite of the constitution that would have allowed him to remain in office and moved to call a nationwide referendum. Under the Honduran constitution only Congress can call a referendum. After the Honduran Supreme Court ruled the referendum illegal, and Zelaya refused to back down, the military, under orders from the court and with support of members of Zelaya’s own party in Congress, moved to formally arrest him in June and flew him to Costa Rica. Zelaya currently is taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa.
While concern over what many described as a coup mounted-not only from Chavez but also from the Obama administration, as well as the Organization of American States and the UN-Honduras’ interim government fought back by following the constitution. Congress duly designated its president, Micheletti, as interim executive and declared that November elections would take place as scheduled. Neither Micheletti nor Zelaya were on the ballot.
Polls ran on Sunday throughout the country (as well as in six U.S. cities) without any reported irregularities. Police did clash with Zelaya supporters who tried to disrupt voting in San Pedro Sula, with teargas fired and some injuries. But at seven precincts visited by Wright, voter turnout was between 66 and 75 percent, she said. Most polling places she saw throughout the day had long lines, and the Supreme Election Tribunal extended voting by one hour. “This was important because Zelaya tried to get people to abstain,” Wright said. Zelaya supporters took to CNN at one point to declare that only 20 percent of voters turned out, and Zelaya himself told CNN that “absenteeism triumphed” and “these elections don’t correct the coup d’état.”
Contrary to those statements, Lobo appeared to have won with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Known by his supporters as “Pepe,” Lobo lost to Zelaya in the 2005 election. He campaigned less against Zelaya this time and more on improving Honduras’ ravaged economy by protecting investors, preserving factory jobs, and cutting crime.
But the country’s constitutional crisis isn’t over yet. On Wednesday Congress must vote on whether to allow Zelaya to complete his term, with Lobo not scheduled to officially take office until Jan. 27. And regional differences could widen. The United States has said it will endorse the results of fair elections, as have Peru, Panama, and Costa Rica. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela, and other leftist Latin governments are likely to refuse to recognize the result.
“We’d rather be isolated from the world than under Chavez for 10 years,” said Marta Lorena de Casca, Honduras’ deputy foreign minister.
Copyright ©2009 WORLD Magazine, Web Extra posted November 30, 2009. Reprinted here December 1st with permission from World Magazine. Visit the website at WorldMag.com.
1. Define referendum.
2. a) Why did Honduran President Manuel Zelaya attempt to call for a nationwide referendum in June?
b) Why was this a problem?
3. What was the result of President Zelaya’s push for a national referendum?
4. How did Honduras’ interim government respond/react to the Obama administration, the U.N. and the Organization of American States accusation that they had mounted a coup against President Zelaya?
5. Conservative candidate Porfiro “Pepe” Lobo lost to Zelaya in the 2005 election. On what issues did Mr. Lobo campaign during this election against Elvin Santos (a member of Zelaya’s Liberal Party)?
6. a) Which countries have said they will support the results of Honduras’ presidential election?
b) Which countries are likely to refuse to recognize the fairly elected leader of Honduras? Why?
7. CHALLENGE QUESTION. Read the information under “Background” and the commentaries under “Resources” below. How did this information assist you in your understanding of events in Honduras?
ON HONDURAS’ OUSTED PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA:
Since his election in 2006, President Zelaya had moved to the left, and aligned himself with the nine-nation Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a bloc led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
In an echo of earlier maneuvering by Chavez and others, Zelaya sought to amend the constitution to extend presidential term limits. He defied both the Supreme Court and the Honduran legislature in pressing for a referendum on the subject.
When the head of the army refused to help Mr. Zelaya carry out the illegal voting exercise, Zelaya fired him – and then refused a Supreme Court order to reinstate him.
The Supreme Court ordered the army to remove the president “to defend the rule of law,” and the National Assembly then appointed Roberto Micheletti [who was president of the Congress and a member of Zelaya’s political party] as a new acting president to serve until January 2010, when Zelaya’s term was to have ended. [elections for the new president will be held November 29, 2009]
“Zelaya pursued his ambition with total disregard of his country’s constitution,” observed Kevin Casas-Zamora, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noting that the president’s plans had been opposed by the Supreme Court, lawmakers, business, the media, the country’s electoral tribunal and nearly all political parties, including his own. (from cnsnews.com/news/print/50455.)
According to the Associated Press, “The fiercest criticism [against the Honduran government’s ouster of Zelaya] has come from Hugo Chavez, the socialist president of Venezuela. [Chavez] has called for Hondurans to rise up against the ‘gorilla government’ and vowed to do everything possible to overthrow it and restore his leftist ally, Zelaya.”
Read a commentary from September on why the U.S. should have supported the Honduran government’s legal removal of President Zelaya from office at blog.american.com/?p=5397.
Read a commentary on Honduras’ presidential election at pajamasmedia.com/blog/the-honduran-elections-persistent-courage-trumps-attempted-tyranny.
For background information on Honduras, go to the CIA World FactBook website.
Go to worldatlas.com for a map of Honduras.
Watch an interview with Honduran interim president Roberto Micheletti below: