Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pre-election update

As the days count down to Sunday's vote in Honduras, there are four things we suggest people should be watching.

First: setting expectations

In a recent post, Boz has tried to project what he feels are the levels of turnout that would give clear signals either of success of the boycott, or of clear support for the claim that elections will allow moving on. Looking at recent election cycles, he says
There should be about 2.25 million total votes and about 2.1 million valid votes in 2009 if raw number trends continue as they have for the past decade.
So, Boz sets his expectations for clear-cut success of the boycott as a valid vote of 1.5 million or less; and for the de facto regime to claim no effect on the election, turnout of 2.4 million votes. I won't repeat his arguments; go read them for yourself; the main thing to take away here is that he is saying a turnout of 25% of the eligible voters will be clearly lower than expected, and a turnout of 50% of eligible voters would allow the de facto regime to claim legitimacy.

(For the record, turnout in 2005 was 55% according to the numbers Boz is relying on. So he is projecting a 5% drop would have happened this year no matter what-- which we would remind readers is an index of disaffection with the Honduran political system, the fundamental problem that these elections will not solve, and may well exacerbate.)

Boz makes the argument that in addition to not coming to vote, it is possible to protest an election by casting a
blank or null ballot, which will reduce valid votes.
So, the gap between the number of valid votes and total votes this time around might include protest blank or null ballots-- except for the fact that Honduran press reports efforts to discourage null votes before they are placed in the ballot box.

An article in La Tribuna, on which RNS commented previously, appeared under the headline
"TSE expects to reduce null votes":
The authorities of the TSE intend a drastic reduction of null votes by orienting the electors how they should exercise their suffrage... The TSE expects to reduce a great percentage of the null vote or the lack of voters, for which it is important to develop step by step each one of the activities that permit the Honduran to freely vote.
So, one confounding issue for interpreting the number of invalid votes (the difference between votes cast and valid votes) as evidence of voter boycotting is that there is a more deliberate attempt to reduce inadvertent null votes this year than previously.

Second: spinning declarations of potential recognition

The biggest prize for the de facto regime has been, of course, the regrettable decision by the US not only to say they might recognize the elections, but the subsequent increasingly strident claims that this election will somehow solve the whole crisis (and thus everyone else should get on board). Yet, as the New York Times correctly observes, the US has not officially declared an unconditional intention to recognize the election, saying "American officials have implied that the Obama administration will support the outcome".

Lesser prizes, Panama, Peru, probably Colombia, and today, Costa Rica, are consistently reported in Honduran pro-coup media as unconditional, even though these also have included the caution that recognition will depend on the election being "transparent". Mexico, widely expected to trend with this group, has actually been careful

The number of countries stating even more clearly that they will not recognize the Sunday vote outcome is of course much larger than this handful of pro-election countries, although sometimes, reporting obscures the actual extent of disapproval of the election.

In addition to the explicit announcements of Brazil, Argentina, and Guatemala against the election, the 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries making up the Rio Group and those of ALBA are on record against the coup-sponsored elections.

The position of Spain, influential in the EU, refusing to recognize the election is not prominently mentioned in most English-language press coverage, although Bloomberg does so in its story.

While not an official governmental view, it is worth noting as well the recent call of a group of MPs in Great Britain against recognition as well.

Broad rejection of the elections by the nations of the Americas should surely outweigh the endorsement of it by the US and a few pragmatic allies. And the voices heard from Europe are also voices of concern, not support for this dead end masquerading as a way out.

Third: overtures of conciliation

These are already coming from many directions. Honduran law professor Leo Valladares is quoted as saying
"Look, the negotiation between Zelaya and Micheletti was going nowhere ... Maybe, by changing the faces of the government, tensions will begin to subside and the new government . . . could be more conciliatory. Whoever wins cannot turn a deaf ear to the demands of the resistance."
Pepe Lobo, considered the likely recipient of the majority of votes on Sunday and almost ordained as the next president, seems to agree, being quoted as saying:
"Our mission is not just to win elections but to produce a change beginning with the reconciliation and unity of Hondurans"
and even more daringly, suggesting

that if he wins, he would include Zelaya in a national reconciliation talks and suggested that the ousted leader would be able to leave his refuge inside the Brazilian Embassy without fear of arrest. ...

"They have to get him out. If not, how?" said Lobo...

"What I know is that if we want peace for Honduras, we have to bring him into the dialogue."

Fourth: Finally, press coverage that admits the election is the culmination of the coup

The mainstream press is catching up with reality, a little bit too late, and a whole lot too little.

For example, read the LA Times story headlined "Honduras upcoming vote a boon to de facto rulers". It acknowledges that recognizing the election hands a victory to the authors of the coup d'etat of June 28, quoting Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director for the Americas Society:
"The U.S. needed a way out,... But what we've done is allow a coup to stand. And I fear this will erode regional consensus about the defense of democracy. . . . The U.S. has lost its moral authority to push back"
The New York Times quotes even more blunt commentary about the damage done to US influence in Latin America, noting the view of many Latin Americans that "recognizing the election will essentially legitimize a coup in a region that has been consolidating its democracies":

“The United States will become isolated — that is very bad for the United States and its relationship with Latin America,” the Brazilian foreign policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, said ... very important countries — the majority in terms of population and political weight — won’t recognize” the results of the election.

Even harsher criticism of US policy blunders comes from other directions.

Consider this statement by Robert White, the former Carter Administration ambassador to El Salvador :
The clumsy handling of this issue when they had the backing of the entire hemisphere is simply an embarrassment.
Or this one, by Lisa Haugaard of the Latin America Working Group
“It makes it look like coups are a viable way out, and that is a terrible message for the region”

This is the legacy of Sunday's electoral exercise:

We are left trying to figure out how low participation has to be to be interpreted as a sign of electoral protest, ignoring plummeting participation election after election which should long ago have been seen as electoral protest.

We are left with the spectacle of a US that declared a multilateral foreign policy in Trinidad and Tobago openly leading a tiny minority of countries of the Americas committed to recognizing the elections, alienating governments that see it putting the "stamp of approval" on the coup.

Which, remember, is taking place under the supervision of the armed forces, who have stockpiled plenty of tear gas for the election, prompting Amnesty International to express concerns about just how fair and open this election really can be:
There's an environment of fear and intimidation in Honduras ...We have seen an increased level of harassment against those who are seen as opposed to the de facto authorities.
Far from "starting from zero", as President Obama suggested, the situation in Honduras on Monday will stay precisely where it is-- with added sources of conflict provided by what will without a doubt be disputes about the Sunday vote.

No comments: