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Updated 12/01/2009

World Divided on Honduras Elections as Rights Advocates Say Vote Was Marred by Government Repression

Despite continued local and international concern over repression, Honduras held elections on Nov. 29, with National Party candidate Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa claiming victory by a wide margin. The most recent counts published by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal showed Lobo taking 56 percent of votes, 18 percentage points ahead of Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos.

Reports on voter turnout—a closely watched measure of popular support, as the resistance movement was calling for a boycott of the electoral process—have varied wildly. The resistance movement estimated a 30 to 35 percent turnout, while numbers from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and widely reported in the Honduran press showed turnout at 61.3 percent of the voting populace. However, according to Honduras Coup 2009, an independent poling firm hired by the tribunal to do exit polling reported turnout at 47.6 percent.

By comparison, according to data published by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, votes cast in the 2005 presidential election represented 55 percent of registered voters.

MISF Associate Producer Oscar Estrada, who lives in Honduras, said that while neither he (nor anyone he knows) participated in the elections, he appears on the official register as having voted and said he knows of similar cases. He pointed to a decision by the Electoral Council, announced midway through election day, to allow voting without finger staining, a fraud-prevention measure. Though the official rationale was that they ran out of ink because of massive turnout—a reason made suspect by the agency's own exit poll numbers—it also makes the verification of voter participation difficult to prove one way or another.

According to the Honduran Embassy in Washington—an entity loyal to Manuel Zelaya's government—as of Nov. 25, one presidential candidate, one vice-presidential candidate, 17 congresspersons, eight mayors, four deputy mayors, and six city council members, among others, had officially withdrawn from the electoral process. Many more were expected to pull out before the vote.

Countries around the world remain divided on whether to accept the results of this election. So far, the United States, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru have announced recognition of the outcome, while Spain, France, and much of Latin America have refused. Great Britain applauded the elections as "peaceful" but calling for the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord to be honored without further delay. The European Union is still deliberating its stance.

Meanwhile, at the Ibero-American Summit taking place in Estoril, Portugal, leaders from Spain, Portugal, Andorra and 19 Latin American countries today issued a joint declaration condemning the June 28 coup and calling for the reinstatement of deposed president Manuel Zelaya, but stopped short of passing judgment on Sunday's elections.

Despite claims of a peaceful election and U.S. press coverage focusing on how the vote is moving Honduras past the crisis, some of the repressive behavior that marked the electoral run-up also marred election day. Thousands of military and reservists were on hand at election centers, and La Tribuna reported one incident in which the military squad disobeyed Electoral Tribunal orders by standing in the doorway of a polling station and taking away credentials from independent candidate representatives.

An observation delegation from the Quixote Center reported that a peaceful resistance protest in San Pedro Sula, involving nonviolent tactics like sitting in the face of military and police aggression, was broken up violently by police wielding a water cannon and tear gas. Amnesty International also reported an unprovoked military shooting on a moving car on Nov. 28.

Detentions were reported by Honduran and international rights groups who observed election activities. An Amnesty International delegation called on authorities to reveal the identities of detainees and to have a court available to address these urgent matters.

Other NGOs, including the Center for Justice and International Law, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Hondurans for Democracy expressed concern over reported acts of military and police violence and intimidation and their impact on the electoral process.

For his part, Zelaya said the election has only intensified the political crisis, and he declared the figures of more than 60 percent voter turnout fraudulent. The Honduran Congress announced it will make a decision tomorrow on the order of Zelaya's restitution. However, reinstatement alone is not seen by Honduran rights groups or the resistance movement as a reason to recognize elections that have taken place under repression, nor a remedy to Honduras’ democratic crisis.