Elections Won’t Resolve Political Crisis; Democracy Must Be Restored Before Free Elections Can Be Held.
Elections conducted in a climate of fear, human rights violations, and international non-recognition won’t resolve the political crisis in Honduras, said Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“Only a few governments that the U.S. State Department can heavily influence will recognize these elections,” said Weisbrot. “The rest of the world recognizes that you cannot carry out free or fair elections under a dictatorship that has overthrown the elected President by force and used violence, repression, and media censorship against political opponents for the entire campaign period leading up the vote, including election day.”
In Tegucigalpa, the Washington-based human rights organization Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) noted: “On election day, November 29, there were a number of incidents that confirmed the climate of repression in which the electoral process took place, which represented the consolidation of the coup d’etat of June 28th.”
CEJIL described “a climate of harassment, violence, and violation of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly” on election day, and called for the release of people arrested by security forces.
Amnesty International issued a press release noting that authorities detained various individuals under a decree prohibiting gatherings of more than four people, some of whom have been charged with terrorism, and called for the identities and whereabouts of those detained to be revealed. “Justice seems to have been absent also on Election Day in Honduras,” Javier Zuñiga, head of an Amnesty International delegation in Honduras, said. “It is therefore essential the whereabouts of all people detained are made public and all incidents of abuse, investigated. The rule of law must fully be restored.”
The election day was marred by reports of police violence and intimidation, including a crackdown on a peaceful march in San Pedro Sula where marchers were tear-gassed, beaten, and detained. Authorities also shot a man in the head at a checkpoint on the eve of the elections, and raided the offices and homes of various civil society groups, including a Quaker agricultural cooperative. Opposition broadcasters had their signals jammed, and the authorities threatened criminal charges for anyone advocating a boycott of the election.
Weisbrot noted that the elected President, Manuel Zelaya, still had nearly two months left in his term, and called for his restoration along with a democratic government that could hold free and fair elections. He noted that all of the major organizations that observe international elections, including the Organization of American States, European Union, and the Carter Center, had refused to send observer delegations to this election.
“First, you need to restore democracy, human rights, and civil liberties, which were violated throughout the campaign period,” Weisbrot said. “Then there can be a legitimate election with official international observer delegations. You can’t have free elections under a dictatorship.”
The level of voter turnout appears to be in dispute; it clearly was lower than in past elections, but there are no reliable numbers available yet. The Washington Post and leading Honduran newspaper El Tiempo reported that while Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) cites a figure of 61. 86 percent voter participation, the independent group Fundación Hagamos Democracia stated that the number of voters was much lower – only 47.6 percent.
“Clearly the allegations made by the U.S. State Department regarding voter turnout have no factual basis,” Weisbrot said, noting that the State Department claimed that “turnout appears to have exceeded that of the last presidential election.”
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