Honduras’ Party Primaries: Voters Went to the Polls, But Can Next Year’s Elections be “Free and Fair”?

Source: The Americas Blog

“Will the elections in Honduras be free and fair?”

This was the question asked [last week] by Aljazeera’s Inside Story Americas, in a discussion with professor Dana Frank of the University of California Santa Cruz, and Pam Spees, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which filed evidence last week with the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding ongoing impunity for crimes against humanity committed by coup leaders Roberto Micheletti, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, palm oil magnate Miguel Facusse, and others. (See our previous post here.)

Honduras’ presidential elections are a year away, but if they are anything like the country’s previous elections in 2009, the answer would be no. Those elections were overseen by an un-elected coup regime, which attacked protesters, raided civil society offices and censored media outlets. An Amnesty International spokesperson declared, “Justice seems to have been absent also on Election Day in Honduras,” and most Latin American countries refused to recognize the new government of Porfirio Lobo afterward.

Party primary elections were held on Sunday, with the preliminary results showing “Mauricio Villeda ahead as presidential candidate for the Liberal Party while the National Party was favoring Juan Orlando Hernández,” and former first lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya emerged – running unopposed – as the candidate of the new Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) party (which emerged from the National Resistance Front to the coup (FNRP)). Notably, of the three, Zelaya had received the most votes (357,926) as of this writing, with Hernández’s 306,012 second. But, only about two-thirds of the mesas had been examined before technical problems caused a vote count disruption, and Hernández’s National Party challenger Ricardo Álvarez called for a “vote by vote recount.” The Supreme Electoral Tribunal vowed yesterday to issue final results “within 10 days.”

As the CCR and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) noted in its evidence to the ICC, several LIBRE party candidates and members have been killed this year. Spees told Aljazeera:

We saw the same types of threats and violence around the elections in November of 2009 after the coup, and it’s continued and expanded, and what we’re seeing is either killings of candidates or would-be candidates. We’re seeing threats and attacks. It’s not an atmosphere in which you can legitimately, realistically expect to have free and fair elections.

Spees also noted that media critical of the coup and the Lobo government “has been under attack since the coup” and so have been unable to freely cover the elections and the run-up to them.

AP reported that “A mission of 40 Organization of American States observers said the voting process had been ‘normal,’” but as we’ve documented, the OAS has a dubious past record, having played a key role in arbitrarily overturning the results of the first round of Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections. Spees noted to Inside Story Americas host Shihab Rattansi that, “Well, I think you made the point that ‘normal’ in Honduras is …there’s a different standard used by the OAS since the coup.”

Election monitors from the U.S. and other countries have written some of their first-hand observations. In a pre-election post on Thursday, Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle described the feelings of people he talked to regarding the elections and whether they would be “free and fair”:

Though skepticism abounds, it has more to do with whether the military and the oligarchy will respect the election results next November during the general elections than whether there are candidates worth voting for. When Hondurans go to the polls this Sunday, those voting in the primary for candidates of the LIBRE party …will be voting for people that for the last two years have walked along side of them under clouds of tear gas, gone to funerals together for compañeros killed for resisting the coup, shared intense and difficult moments and debates but never lost sight of the dream of re-founding Honduras.

Greg McCain witnessed the electoral environment in the Aguan Valley on Sunday:

To enter the town of Tocoa, a fifteen-minute drive from La Confianza, you have to pass through a military checkpoint. Plus, military personnel occupy several of its hotels on a semi-regular basis. On this rainy Election Day, there were more military transport trucks than usual at the entrance to the city, and one truck was mounted with an automatic weapon pointing towards the cars as they passed the checkpoint, a soldier behind it with his finger near the trigger: [see photos here.]

McCain described how Election Day “started”:

Election day here in Honduras started with an email message from MUCA (The Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán). It stated that the day before, at about 4:30PM, hundreds of soldiers had entered La Confianza, the campesino community which belongs to MUCA. The soldiers had their guns at the ready as they went up and down the streets where children were playing. Someone asked them what they were doing there. Their response: “We just want to capture a tacamiche.” Tacamiche is a reference to the campesinos who occupied a banana plantation in the 1990s and were brutally evicted by 500 members of the National Police. The soldiers only stayed in La Confianza for a short while, but their message was clear, we are watching and ready to pounce.

McCain writes that “Torrential rain fell continuously, as it has done everyday during this rainy season. But neither the rain nor the presence of soldiers deterred voters from turning out to the polls.”