Some thoughts on the Honduran elections

December 9, 2009

Yes, this post is a little late – the elections happened nearly a week ago.  I wasn’t sure I was going to post on the elections but I’ve been thinking about it for the past week, so here it is.  Our Honduran election experience and observations.

Actually this is based more in my husband’s experience, with my observations! I stayed home and spent the day with my daughter making Christmas decorations.  However, my husband, who is good friends with one of the candidates for mayor, and spent election day driving around the voting booths, helping him to keep an eye on the electoral process.  In this particular area, the current mayor has won the past 6 elections, most believe by fraud, but they hoped that things might be different this year, and this new candidate would have a chance.  It was an uphill battle from the beginning, the mayor developed deep pockets before the election and had been fixing roads and we had observed him giving away bags of cement and roofing iron for weeks.

Voting day itself started very early, as voting booths opened at 6am.  That is, except for the first voting booth my husband visited which did not open until much later, delayed by apparent friction in the voting centre.  When they arrived there were soldiers outside, as there were at all voting booths (it is very strange for a kiwi to understand but elections here are run by the military), and the doors were locked.  There was apparently some disagreement between the election staffers, some of them recruited by the current mayor.

Even once that was resolved and the doors opened, turnout was very low.  In fact things were slow and quiet at at all the centres he visited, and my husband was able to return home for lunch, and to have a nap.  Around mid-afternoon the announcement came that voting was to be extended for another hour, although there were mixed reports as to whether this was because there were more voters than expected, or less.  My husbands experience leads him to believe the latter. Shortly after this, busloads of voters, none local to the small town, arrived at the booths and voted. The buses were apparently organised by the incumbent mayor, as were payments to all taxi and moto-taxi drivers in town, in order to get more people to the polls.  The going rate for a vote – apparently about 500 Lempiras (US$25 – a lot of money for a poor family here).

Eventually the incumbent mayor was confirmed as the winner.  As was Pepe Lobo as president.  The election itself was declared a victory for democracy and Honduran independence.  However our observations lead us to believe this simply could not have been free and fair elections.  While we were concentrated on the mayoral election, it seemed to us a microcosm of the larger issues in this election. Many abstained from voting because they either did not see that there would be any change, or they voted for the incumbent because they felt obliged to after taking a bribe.

If an election at local level cannot be run in a free and fair manner, how so could the national elections?  Especially when the resistance has been effectively silenced from the media and repressed, sometimes violently.  Although most places were quiet (very quiet!) I know a lot of people, like me, stayed home on the day.  Where there was protest, in San Pedro Sula, there was also a harsh reaction from the military.  The same military who guarded every voting centre.

The national media in Honduras, and a significant proportion of the international media report that the elections were peaceful, free and fair.  They also reported that over 60% of the population voted.  Given the experience here on election day, we consider that at 60% turnout is unlikely, and even if 60% or more of eligible voters turned out,  their votes were not necessarily clean or meaningful.

It seems we are not alone in our suspicions. Rather than make this post too wordy, here is a very interesting, and disturbing report from The Real News, regarding the electoral fraud.

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5 Responses to “Some thoughts on the Honduran elections”

  1. Alexandra Says:

    Hi,

    Yo seem to not have lived long enough in Hnduras to understand that the military do not manage the elections. By law, and due to the fact that they are the only ones that can help guarantee the safety of the ballots, the urns and also are they are the one that have the logistical means to distribute the ballots to places that are otherwise hard to reach, the National Electoral Tribunal takes over jusrisdiction of the military one month before the electoral process is effected. This has alwys been like that in HOnduras. Honduras is not alone in this. Other ocuntries also use the support of the military to guard the ballos, urns and polls. this is normal M.O.

    As for the busses, well, mana people work outside of town. Many leave their towns or origin, where they remain registered as residents, to work say in San Pedro, Tocoa, El Progreso, Cortes, Tegucigalpa and many other towns where there is mor work available. They then travel by bus to their towns of origin since they are registered there and that is where their urns are assigned to them. Most buses arrive in the afternoon depending on where they come from.

    I grew up in Honduras and have therefore seen quite a few electoral processes. I also kept in touch with many friends and family there and ALL OF THEM reported they had to wait in line for 2, 3 and 4 hours before they actually got to vote.

    I suggest that, as a foreinger, you be careful and mabe more objective and balanced, about how you expose your views on an eleciton that is not yours, especially since you do admit you stayed at home making christmas ornaments and did not witness any of the things you say your husband told you.

    • Sharon Says:

      Thanks for your comment Alexandra. You make some valid points which I will address:

      Firstly, no I have not lived here long (6 months) but I visited several times, for 2-4 months at a time with my Honduran husband and have done research work my both my Master’s and PhD here. This may not make me an expert (in the way someone who was born and bought up here is) but it does mean I am trying to learn.

      I actually do understand that the military do not “manage” the elections. I changed the sentence to make it less wordy and it didn’t end up very clear. Sorry. What I was commenting on was how simply strange it was to me, as a kiwi, to see the military at polling booths. This might be normal M.O. here and elsewhere but normal doesn’t necessarily mean good, and to someone not used to it it looks very strange. Where the military has been involved in repression it is certainly not a good look. I know they are ostensibly the only ones with the resources to distribute the ballots but I do not think it is ideal.

      You may well be right about the buses, but this was a very small rural town where people know each other, and these were definitely “out-of-towners”.

      I guess your family is in a different area (or perhaps they arrived when the buses did, I’m sure there would have been a line then). What I was writing about was what happened in one small area, and although I did generalise that out to the rest of the country, I did that after viewing the video report linked at the end of the post, which showed very quiet booths elsewhere. I am usually the first to jump on others for using anecdotal evidence to make a greater point so I will take the criticism. Things may well have been very different in other areas.

      As to reporting my husbands experience. I would have actually loved to be out there with him but my child was sick and not up to driving up and down dusty mountain roads. One of the reasons I thought a whole week before writing this was because I knew it wasn’t my first hand experience, but he is not the type to write himself and I thought his experience was worth telling. I fully trust my husband (who has nothing to gain by making up stories about this to me anyway) and that is why in the end, I wrote the post.

  2. Lizzy Says:

    Well, I thank you, Sharon for taking the time to write about the elections in Honduras. One of the reasons why I have not written anything on this topic, even though I have plenty to say about it, is because I am not in Honduras and my last visit took place more than two years ago, so I appreciate your accounts of the situation there.

    I know you care about my homeland, Sharon, and it means a lot to me. I wish those people who like to whitewash the coup d’etat as a democratic process showed the same determination when it comes to actually improving the lives of the millions in Honduras who are poor and dispossesed, but no, they are perfectly happy in their fortified neighborhoods and cage-like houses.

  3. Alexandra Says:

    sooo, you take your observations from what you sourself admit to be a small town, and also a video and apply that knowledge to refelt the behaviour and turnout of a whole country??

    I assume you do know that not only people that are registered in a town go to vote there right?…in cases of small towns, villages and such…Say for example Valle de Angeles (more or less in the middle of hte country)…the inhabitants of the even smaller willages surrounding the town got to the town (valle de angeles) to vote since their assigned booths are there. I do not know why the buses were late, maybe they were used to transport more people earlier in other areas…have you thought of that?

    Oh and no my family does not have to get ‘bussed’ from one place to another. And no I was NOT born in Honduras, however I did live my whole life there, I went to school there and I learned about the constitution and how it workd, I also learned about who gets jurisdiction of what during elections. I also lived through military regimes and coups during the 60’s and 70#s there. Looking at what happened now compared to how it was then…there is a universe of difference. I also remember when the constitutional assembly was formed to write the constitution that the country has now defended and abided by to a tee.

    Oh and since your town is apparently so small that everyone knows everyone else, well then full voting booths are not a realistic thing to expect now are they?

    Please research your thesis a bit more carefully if you are indeed wiritng about the Honduran form of government and how things are generally done there.

    • Sharon Says:

      Alexandra, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of Honduras now admits less than 50% of the population voted. Whatever the turnout at individual voting booths (and some may have been very busy, others not), this is not a high turnout and is not the validation of the coup the Micheletti et al claim it to be.

      Clearly the experience of your family, and the experience of my family and friends was different. You are right that one should not generalise one experience out to a whole country, but your family does not represent the whole country either. Perhaps we should stop using personal experience to measure these things and instead look at the actual numbers.

      Finally no, my thesis is not about the Honduran government or I would certainly have more specific data. However the events of the past 6 months have had a significant impact on my research and I have been following events closely from within the country and from an wide range of sources (both pro-coup and resistencia). For me, the process of research is all about listening and learning, and then forming an educated opinion. I’m still listening, still learning, and (after carefully not forming an opinion for months) I am now becoming more and more sure of what I think about this.


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