Sunday, November 29, 2009

Empty Streets on Election Day

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

Tegucigalpa woke on ‘election’ day to eerily quiet streets. The few taxis working this morning cruised easily through roads normally congested with traffic. The great majority of stores and business (excluding the fast food chains) kept their metal shutters tightly secured. Driving through this sudden ghost city, the few areas that showed some signs of human activity were the capital’s high schools as they transformed themselves into polling stations to host the activity so important to representative democracies: voting.

The number of Honduran citizens that went to the polls today is certain to be a hotly disputed issue. The National Resistance Front estimated this afternoon that 30-35% of the populace placed a vote. Porfirio Lobo of the National Party, proclaimed the winner of the elections, announced during his victory speech that 80% of Hondurans filled in ballots. A quick examination of recent electoral trends (in 2005 56% of Hondurans voted) makes this number sound incredulous.

A woman places her vote at  a polling station in Tegucigalpa

A woman places her vote at a polling station in Tegucigalpa

Visiting polling stations throughout Tegucigalpa today, the number of people in attendance seemed scant. Police and soldiers manned the entrances to the schools and occasionally strolled through the voting stations themselves.

Soldiers at a polling station on Sunday

Soldiers at a polling station on Sunday

But voter turnout will probably not be the deciding factor as the United States makes a final determination about recognition of today’s event. The reports of the approximately three hundred election observers in the country over the weekend (including representatives chosen by the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute) will weigh more heavily in that decision.

Interactions with these electoral observers today left little doubt what their final say would be. Bosco Daniel Mayorga, an observer representing the Conservative Party in Nicaragua, noted that “Honduras has the strongest democracy in all of Central America. For those of us in Nicaragua, Honduras is an inspiration…we will recognize these elections.” These statements were made at 2:30PM, a full two and a half hours before the polls officially closed.

International election observers flirt with two young women at a polling station in the capital

International election observers flirt with two young women at a polling station in the capital

An observer from the United States commented this evening that the head of the de facto regime, Roberto Micheletti, is one of her “personal heroes” and that he showed great courage in pushing forward when the “entire world was against him.” With this sort of observation impartiality, the final judgment isn’t hard to imagine.

Election details aside, the question at the heart of the matter is whether or not elections overseen by a coup regime should be recognized as legitimate by other governments. On the morning of the elections, the human rights group COFADEH reported approximately 30 cases of illegal detention from the previous day. When that coup government maintains itself through violence and intimidation during the campaigning period, the fairness, freedom and transparency that are foundational to democratic elections are called into deep question.

When a coup regime presides over elections, do those elections mark the end of a coup? Depending on the recognition they receive, they could mark its victory.

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