Friday, November 27, 2009

Will Election Observers Understand the Context of the "Elections"?

by Galen Cohee Baynes, Nicaragua International Team

“The three emotions you will see most prevalently this weekend are fear, uncertainty and happiness,” says Felix Molina of Radio Progreso, an independent radio station in northern Honduras. This is a strange mixture to be sure, but one that reflects the bizarre conditions under which this weekend’s elections will be held.

“Happiness will be seen on the faces of those that supported this coup and look at what they call the 'election party' as a solution to our country’s crisis.” This is the narrative that Micheletti’s regime has been urgently presenting to the international community and that Honduras’ mainstream media has been pushing on the population over the last five months.

“Uncertainty is the emotion that will be seen most generally.” No one knows exactly what this weekend will bring or what the reaction to the elections hosted by the coup regime will be. The narrative of a crisis resolved by the electoral process has not taken deep root here in Honduras nor is it gaining much weight internationally. Molina notes that the most optimistic estimates suggest that of the approximately 4.6 million Hondurans registered to vote on Sunday, 1.5 million or so will turn out. This would be a drastic drop in voter turnout from the 56% that went to the polls in 2005. Despite the U.S. drive to legitimize the elections by sending observers and reneging on earlier commitments to condition recognition of the elections on Manuel Zelaya’s reinstatement to the presidency, few other nations seem to be ready to accept Sunday’s outcome.

Fear is the emotion that will be haunting those who have taken an open stand against the June 28th coup this weekend. To understand the extent to which the coup regime has been able to instill fear in its population one only has to attend an even hosted by the resistance movement in these days before the election. The attendance at marches that one month ago would draw out thousands of people has greatly dwindled. Ramon Espinoza, a student at the National Autonomous University, explains why people are staying inside. “Our original idea was to take over the university in the days before the election to protest the farce, but we hear in the media and through rumors that soldiers have orders to shoot on sight if they see disturbances. We have to make a decision about whether to face that.” With the human rights organization COFADEH now recording thirty political assassinations by police and military forces in the last five months, Hondurans know that these rumors have teeth.

However, it is not only fear that will keep members of the resistance off the streets on Sunday. It is also part of the strategy being adopted by the National Resistance Front. The movement refuses to recognize the “elections” as such, referring to them simply as “the event.” A call has been put out for people to stay at home. Let the show take place – the thinking goes – and then we will resume the struggle against a new government equally as illegitimate as the current de facto one.

Meanwhile, election observers began arriving yesterday to the Marriott, Clarion and Intercontinental hotels here in Tegucigalpa. They will participate in orientation sessions organized by the Supreme Electoral Council over the next two days. As the website of the National Democratic Institute, which is sending twenty observers, notes, “severe time constraints precluded sending long-term observers, a pre-election mission to assess thoroughly the campaign period, or a large-scale deployment of observers throughout the country.” With such little time and scant presence on the ground, one must wonder how accurate any analysis of the fairness and transparency of these elections by the observers can possibly be. Which of the above emotions will they be able to detect? We certainly know which one the coup regime will be fiercely trying to portray.

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