Jesse Freeston, Producer, The Real News Network: The Honduran elections of Sunday, November 29 were unique in that they were less about who was going to win than they were about how many people were going to vote. Both major presidential candidates were supporters of the June 28 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya and divided Honduran society. Meanwhile, the movement that rose in resistance to the coup called for a boycott of the polls —
“Democracy has been destroyed. On this occasion, the only ones voting will be those who support the coup.”
Freeston: The coup government, not officially recognized by any country in the world, was hoping to gain international legitimacy by demonstrating a large turnout at the polls.
Roberto Micheletti, De Facto President of Honduras (June 30, 2009): I promise, before God, before all of you, and before the homeland, on November 29 we are going to elections.
Freeston: — and framing it as a referendum on the coup. They sought to increase turnout by suppressing the boycott movement, taking actions such as shutting down anti-coup media, violently breaking up marches, and threatening anyone advocating against voting with charges of terrorism. When the winner of the elections, Nationalist Party leader Pepe Lobo, delivered his victory speech on Sunday night, he stressed the significance of the turnout.
Pepe Lobo, “President Elect,” Honduras: Thanks also to the members of the other political parties, because your votes legitimize and give value to this election. These elections were not only better attended. We are talking about 62 percent of Hondurans going to the polls. Take note, 10 percent more went to the polls this year than did in 2005.
Freeston: That 62 percent figure appeared at 10 p.m. on election night, after the Electoral Tribunal’s computer system broke down for three hours. Four days later, a spokesperson for the Electoral Tribunal spoke to The Real News in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, where the election headquarters are located, where he informed us that the projection had gone up.
Carlos Chactur, Official, Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal: We believe that it will hit almost three million voters.
Freeston: Which represents what percentage?
Chactur: Which represents approximately 65 percent of the electoral registry.
Freeston: But on the other side of the M16-wielding soldiers guarding the tabulation center, there was a shocking surprise to be found. Right there on the big screen was the percentage of national voter participation: 49 percent. To confirm, The Real News asked for a printout of the national results to date, and again there it was: 49.2 percent. I then sought out the man in charge of the count, Leonardo Ramírez Parada, an engineer with 30 years experience in election tabulation.
Leonardo Ramírez Parada, Technical Advisor, Supreme Electoral Tribunal: Well, the current count is the same number that you see up on the boards, which give us roughly a 50 percent participation amongst the population. That could change, it could still go up, because there remains a significant number of votes to be counted. But for now that’s the numbers we’ve got for participation.
Freeston: So where did the 62 percent number come from? A high-ranking official at the Electoral Tribunal told me off-camera that the president of the tribunal, Saul Escobar, on the night of the election announced the number out of nowhere. When I asked the official to say that on camera, they responded: do you really want me to get shot? The coup regime’s announcement that more than 60 percent of Hondurans voted on election day has been enough to drastically change the dynamics of the situation. Governments that previously stated the elections were illegitimate now consider them a triumph.
Graeme Clark, Canadian Ambassador to the OAS: Canada’s assessment is that the November 29 elections were conducted in a relatively peaceful and orderly manner. We believe that despite less than ideal circumstances, the voter turnout was significant and the margin of victory unambiguous. Canada is particularly pleased that no major incidences of violence have been reported. That is our reading of the situation; that is our assessment of the reality.
Freeston: But who is on the ground, double-checking that reality? All the world’s major election observation teams — the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the Carter Center — refused to participate. Only the Honduran organization Hagamos Democracia collected significant election data. That organization was trained and organized by the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which is funded by the US government and affiliated with the Democratic Party. Hagamos Democracia found a 47.6 percent participation rate over its sample of 1,000 voting tables. But instead of blowing the whistle, the NDI neglected to mention this 15 percent discrepancy in their preliminary report on the election. They declared the elections to be orderly and peaceful, also making no mention of the brutal attack on peaceful protesters by security forces in downtown San Pedro Sula, an event that two NDI delegation members were witnesses to.
Reporter: What testimony did you guys receive?
Election Observer, National Democratic Institute: Excuse me.
Reporter: What’s testimony did you receive?
Freeston: The NDI also admits in the report that they weren’t in the country long enough to call themselves an observer mission under international standards. In fact, under international standards, which require extensive pre-election observation, there were no legitimate international observers in Honduras for the election. But despite the lack of credible international observation, the world’s largest media outlets have praised the election. A New York Times editorial on Saturday began with: “There was wide agreement that last week’s presidential election in Honduras, won by the conservative leader Porfirio Lobo, was clean and fair,” while editorials like this one in the Miami Herald gave their interpretation of the government’s falsified turnout claims, saying, “The turnout of more than 60 percent signals that most Hondurans were unwilling to heed the call of ousted President Manuel Zelaya, who had called for a boycott. . . . That, along with an absence of report irregularities at the polls and a generally peaceful atmosphere around the country, helps to make the case that the results of the election should be respected by other countries.” Armed with precisely this voter-turnout number, many countries are starting to do just that.
José Enrique Castillo Barrantes, Costa Rican Ambassador to the OAS: Let’s not help Honduras; let’s help its people that have shown, through the ballot box, their will to move on and leave the crisis behind. This is the only solution chosen by the Honduran people. Any position against the elections means crushing that solution.
Freeston: Most of the South American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, maintain their stance of nonrecognition.
José Pinelo, Bolivian Ambassador to the OAS: The object of their strategy is to ensure that the forces that conducted the coup against the constitutional government of Zelaya continue governing Honduras. Under no circumstances will my government accept this objective. For Bolivia, recognizing Mr. Lobo is the same as recognizing Micheletti. Recognizing a government formed like this means recognizing elections that were administered by coup plotters; it means accepting that these were clean, without fraud or abstention. Recognizing Mr. Lobo means trusting that those who took power with guns on June 28 suddenly turned into democrats on November 29, administering or allowing free elections.
Freeston: The United States confirmed its November decision to recognize the winner of the elections.
Carmen Lomellin, US Ambassador to the OAS: — despite this, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the Honduran people conducted remarkably free, fair, and transparent elections November 29 for new leadership, and they deserve our congratulations. While the numbers are not final, nearly two-thirds of registered voters living in Honduras cast their ballots, a rate —
Freeston: The misreported figure has had resounding effects domestically as well, when the National Congress voted in a landslide on Wednesday, three days after the election, not to reinstate President Zelaya to serve out the last two months of his term. Many members of Congress referred to the turnout numbers in order to substantiate their support for the coup.
“One comes to Congress not just to express what one thinks or believes; instead, one comes as a representative of a people that gives us their vote to represent them, because they don’t have a voice here in Congress. That’s why, conscious of what the majority want, which is that Zelaya not be reinstated, we are very proud that these elections were massively attended. For the first time, I was almost two hours late because of all the people there. That is only seen in a people that wants to send a message to the world.”
Freeston: News that the 62 percent participation rate was fabricated will come as no surprise to the many Honduran radio correspondents who reported on empty voting booths across the country on Sunday. The Real News visited one of the largest voting centers in San Pedro Sula during the vote count. Not a single election observer was present at any of the 21 voting tables, and the poll workers reported very low participation.
Freeston: How many people voted at this table?
Poll Workers: One hundred and five.
Freeston: One hundred and five people voted. And that’s over how many registered?
Poll Workers: Three hundred and forty.
Poll Workers: Of the 340 registered at this table, only 119 showed up.
Poll Workers: Out of 340, 128 people voted
Poll Workers: One hundred and eight people voted out of 340.
Poll Workers: Out of 340, 116 people voted.
Poll Workers: One hundred and twenty people.
Freeston: Over how many registered?
Poll Workers: Over 340.
Poll Workers: One hundred and eleven voted, which would mean about 33 percent.
Freeston: After visiting all 21 polling tables, the average participation at that center was 37 percent. The next day, the mainstream newspapers reported that the residents of San Pedro Sula, quote, “flooded the ballot boxes.” For the coup resistance, which said all along that the results were going to be fraudulent, they are more shocked at the acceptance by the international community of an even bigger lie, that the elections were “orderly and peaceful” — words that have been reiterated by governments and media around the world. The facts are that these elections took place with the elected president surrounded by military inside a foreign embassy, under a coup government that has effectively denied the basic human rights of many of its citizens based on their political views. They’ve denied freedom of assembly to the violent breakup of peaceful demonstrations, denied freedom of the press by closing and seizing the equipment of the few media outlets that aren’t owned by coup supporters, denied freedom of expression by arresting people for the content of their words, and created a culture of fear through targeted torturing and assassination of anti-coup leaders, a culture made acutely worse in the days immediately prior to the election, when the military sent a letter to all the mayors in the country asking for names and contact info for all the members of the resistance in their municipality, then calling in the army reserves for election day. The facts are: these elections were neither clean nor peaceful. Reporting from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, for The Real News Network, this is Jesse Freeston.
This video was released by The Real News on 6 December 2009. The text above is a transcript of the video.