About last night: Honduras Elections

About last night: Honduras Elections

By Rosemary Joyce

Last night, the incumbent president of Honduras declared a state of emergency, suspending the constitutional guarantee of the right to move freely around the country. He ordered the armed forces and the police, whose militarization he has promoted, to remove protests that have closed roads, taken bridges, and occupied public spaces throughout the country. In his order to remove protesters, he added an order to remove protesters from private property as well– technically making it illegal for now for Hondurans to protest anywhere.

The citizens of the country have had a lot to protest this week.

Hondurans voted last Sunday in national elections, including for the presidency. They have been waiting for a week for official results, amid troubling delays, announcements of computer failure and system overload, and suspicion of politically appointed electoral tribunal that runs the counting of the votes. International observers initially called for greater transparency. As the nature of the problems continued, they added calls for explanations of how votes are selected for additional scrutiny. The international observers were required, finally, to insist that the tallies from each polling place be counted or at least reviewed– once they understood that in Honduras, counting all the votes is simply not automatic.

Protests began when an early 5% lead for a candidate running under the banner of “Alliance in Opposition to the Dictatorship” was steadily reversed, following a more than 24 hour break in reporting of counting. The beneficiary of the new trend in votes was the second running candidate, the incumbent who just declared a state of emergency.

Re-election has not been permitted in Honduras since a ban was written into the constitution in 1983 after a period of dictatorship. That made it a crime for political officials to even discuss changing the constitutional ban.

The current president took advantage of a ruling allowing discussion of re-election, by a Honduran Supreme Court whose composition he controlled as head of the congress before his victory in 2013 in a presidential election marred by accusations of fraud. The changes in the Supreme Court that he oversaw were the focus of protests and legal cases.

Polling data from the respected LAPOP (Latin American Public Opinion Project) showed that almost two-thirds of Hondurans were opposed to re-election. The ban on re-election was given greater symbolic weight in 2009, when a coup removed the sitting president on the accusation that he was moving to create conditions that might, after many steps, have changed the Constitution.

After the 2013 election, a massive corruption scandal came to light showing that the previous government, controlled by the party of the current president, had diverted funds from public health agencies into their election campaign. The current president maintains his innocence, saying he knew nothing about the corruption that aided in his election. The Honduran populace has been skeptical. Peaceful mass marches by torchlight, of indignados, the indignant ones, mobilized, inspired by the success of mass mobilization in neighboring Guatemala. They called for an international commission against impunity and corruption from the OAS like the one that was pivotal in Guatemala.

Coming out of the indignados movements, two opposition parties that formed as new political movements after the 2009 coup joined forces in the current election. One, LIBRE, is a populist party dedicated to enhancing social welfare and protecting the rights of indigenous people, afro-descendants, workers, women, and LGBTQ communities. It emerged from the resistance to the 2009 coup, and its political leadership includes the president forcibly removed in that coup.

In 2013, LIBRE ran the charismatic wife of the former president, who ran a strong second in the official vote, losing under protest to the candidate who is now president. Under Honduran law, which does not require a majority vote, his official 37% total was enough to give him the office.

In third place in that election was a second protest party candidate, Salvador Nasralla, who was leading in the polls this year until the still-unexplained period of no reporting of votes. Nasralla, a television personality, formed his Anti-corruption Party (PAC) in reaction to the public disgust with political exploitation of office, already evident even before the massive scandal erupted after the 2013 election. Often described as center-right, the Anti-corruption Party is better characterized as pro-business and moderate in social policies.

Realizing that the vote for LIBRE and the PAC in 2013 surpassed that of the National Party that held the presidency and passed it on to the current occupant, this year, the two insurgent parties reached an agreement and ran one candidate, Nasralla. In the wake of the corruption scandal and the indignados movement, it was reasonable to expect the Alianza, as the coalition was called, might post numbers even higher than their 42% of the share officially recognized in the fraud-marred 2013 election.

Indeed, even after the vote counting irregularities that have the Honduran populace out in the streets, the Alianza is officially credited with over 41% of the votes. Remarkably, despite re-election being opposed by almost two-thirds of the population, the Honduran electoral officials currently give the sitting president slightly more than 42% of the vote.

That incongruity, along with the strange pattern of counting, stopping without explanation, restarting without notice, reporting a “computer failure” that still makes no sense, and restarting with counting taking an entirely different direction, has frustrated Hondurans. They took to the streets in large numbers, using the tactic of cutting off access to roads and bridges which is a hallmark of Honduran protest.

What the international observers call a lack of transparency by the politically appointed election tribunal, Hondurans see as subversion of the popular vote. Honduran elections use an approach in which votes are counted at each local polling place, a summary tally is created, scanned, and digitally transmitted to the electoral officials, and becomes the basis for official counting. The actual ballot boxes are sealed and moved to the capital under the control of the armed forces, assigned the constitutional role of guarantee of the election. Rarely are the paper originals of the vote tallies reviewed, nor is it normal to open ballot boxes to check confusing or disputed vote tallies.

The number of points where the process could allow changes to votes is substantial. A recording discussed by reporters for London’s The Economist before the election appeared to show operatives of the ruling party being coached on ways to change vote tallies. The scanning of more than 5000 vote tallies reportedly done without oversight in a hotel in the capital city raised the spectre that false tallies might have been substituted, a strategy discussed on this recording. While the electoral officials refuse to discuss this incident, with each vote tally corresponding on average to 100-200 voters, that would be up to 1 million votes that could have been tampered with.

Then there is the undisputed fact that 1000 vote tallies were set aside for unspecified reasons for “monitoring”. Originally, the electoral officials intended to announce the winner of the election without counting these tallies. Under pressure from the international community, they agreed to review these and enter them before deciding who had actually won in the razor-thin race they are reporting, with 6% of the vote uncounted and a margin of just over 45,000 votes out of 3.1 million counted.

Then came the declaration of a state of emergency and suspension of constitutional rights. Vote counting is not underway. Opposition politicians and former politicians alike are noting on social media that counting votes under these conditions amounts to an election under conditions of a coup d’etat. That shouldn’t be surprising: in 2009, when the country was literally under the control of an unelected government, the international community accepted an election where for weeks the country was under curfew, prohibited from free assembly. The script was written then; we simply are seeing how well the current Honduran administration can repeat it.

This text was written by Rosemary Joyce and uploaded on to the site by Uzma Rizvi.