I’ve got several comments about the context of last Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, where Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, a conservative businessman, was declared victor.
The hope is that the election will end a crisis that emerged on June 28, when the Honduran military seized the previously elected President Manuel Zelaya, and sent him into exile.
Zelaya is now back in Tegucigalpa, holed up at the Brazilian embassy, where he issued statements calling on supporters to boycott the national ballot.
That didn’t happen, or at least not on any mass scale. An independent Honduran civic group said that the turnout was down only 7.4 percent from the previous presidential election, to 47.6 percent. Government tallies placed the turnout much higher.
By itself, the turnout is not an issue, but legitimacy is. If 47.6 percent sounds like a low turnout, Americans should remember that U.S. presidential elections in recent history haven’t been much higher than that, sometimes lower than 50 percent. In the contested 2000 Gore-Bush election, 54.2 percent of eligible voters turned out.
The difference is, well, the United States is the United States. Americans didn’t take to the barricades after the Supreme Court chose Bush as the winner along political lines; Democrats and the news media
shied away from controversy and swallowed the result.
Honduras, on the other hand, is Honduras. At first, the United States, which played a controversial role in trying to end the dispute between Zelaya and Roberto Micheletti, the man installed as president by the Honduran Congress and Supreme Court. Complicating matters was Zelaya’s friendship and growing affinity with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, hardly a U.S. ally.
The United States immediately recognized Lobo’s victory on Sunday, but other countries, notably Brazil, rejected the balloting, which took place in a climate of protest. Micheletti has been widely criticized internationally for human rights violations and suspension of civil liberties during the election campaign.
Significantly, former President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center declined to monitor the election, having supported a national unity government prior to the election. The Center explained its position, thus: “We noted that restrictions on press, protest, and movement have occurred since the presidential coup on June 28, 2009, and into the formal campaign period, impinging on the electoral rights of Hondurans.”
While the ball is in the hands of Hondurans, as it always has been, it’s clear that international support and a healing process are required. Successive U.S. governments have often failed to recognize — even as they rightly speak out for representative democracy around the world — that elections are never an end unto themselves.