Honduras: did abstention win the vote?

At about 10 PM on Nov. 29, Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced at a press conference that Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa of the center-right National Party (PN) had won the presidency in the general elections held that day; Hondurans also voted for deputies to the National Congress and the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) and for members of the nation’s municipal governments. With 8,682 ballot boxes counted, about 60% of the total, Lobo had won 52.29% of the votes, while his main rival, Elvin Santos of the badly divided Liberal Party (PL, also center-right), trailed with 35.74%. The remaining three candidates got less than 3% each; more than 6% of the votes were blank or invalid. The TSE projected that the turnout was 61.3% of the voting population, about six percentage points higher than in the 2005 elections.

With these results, said Enrique Ortez Sequeira, a TSE magistrate from the PL, “the world is obliged to recognize us, because today we, seven million Hondurans, have told them that we want to live in peace and democracy.” (El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, Nov. 30)

Lobo had been expected to win easily. But the main issue in the election, voter turnout, was more difficult to resolve. Conservative forces were hoping to use the elections to legitimize the de facto government put in place when President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales was removed from office by a military coup on June 28. Zelaya and the labor and social movements that opposed the coup called for a boycott of the vote, and a number of Latin American nations announced that they wouldn’t recognize elections organized by a coup regime. Because of objections by many members, the Organization of American States (OAS) was unable to send observers.

In a statement on Nov. 29, the National Front of Resistance Against the Coup d’Etat, a coalition of grassroots organizations, said its national monitoring operation had found that “the level of abstention is, at a minimum, 65-70%, the highest in the nation’s history… In this form the people have castigated the coup-perpetrating candidates and the dictatorship.” (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Comunicado No. 40, Nov. 29 via Vos el Soberano) “Abstention won, even counting the votes of all the candidates; abstention was more than 60% in the country,” President Zelaya said on Nov. 30. He noted that without electoral observers from the OAS, the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), “we can’t certify that the data that’s going to come out is correct.” (ANSA, Nov. 30)

Some independent observers also cast doubt on the TSE’s projections of high turnout. A worker with the Danish Association for International Cooperation who visited voting centers in Tegucigalpa in the afternoon saw few voters, no lines and election workers passing the time in friendly conversations. (MS Central America, Nov. 30)

Although not agreeing with the boycotters’ claims of 65-70% abstention, the nonprofit group that the TSE contracted to do exit polls, Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD), also disagreed with the official turnout projection of 61.3%. The FHD’s projection for turnout was about 47.6%, significantly lower than the 2005 turnout. At the Nov. 29 press conference, TSE magistrate Ortez Sequeira noted that the FHD’s exit polls were close to the TSE’s projections—except on the question of turnout. Skeptics also noted TSE president Saúl Escobar’s admission at the press conference that the electoral results were being delayed because of a technical problem in verifying the digitalized data. (El Tiempo, Nov. 30; Honduras Coup 2009 blog, Nov. 30)

With the legitimacy of his election under scrutiny, Porfirio Lobo has called for a “government of national unity, of reconciliation,” and has promised a “broad and sincere” dialogue of all the sectors. There has been speculation that if he assumes office when Zelaya’s term ends on Jan. 27, Lobo will extend an amnesty both to Zelaya and to the perpetrators of the coup. (BBC, Nov. 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 29

See our last posts on Honduras and the struggle in Central America.

  1. Honduran Election
    It would be nice if this article had more facts and less opinion.

    For instance it would be nice to now how many votes were counted.

    Instead you give the number of ballot boxes counted.

    At first scan this makes it appear that only a few thousand people voted in a country of seven million.

    It would be nice to know how many people voted for each candidate.

    But I understand that would tend to make the people receiving those votes to appear democratically elected – would not want to do that.

    1. Honduran Election Facts
      The only opinions expressed in this item–a summary of news reports by cited sources–came from a member of the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on one side, and from President Zelaya and the resistance front on the other. The main focus is on facts: the TSE’s turnout projection, the estimate from the group the TSE contracted to conduct the exit polls, and the estimates from coup opponents. The exit polls are especially interesting, since Fundación Hagamos Democracia (FHD) reportedly receives funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and is not likely to be a leftist front. (La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 1)

      As for the idea that “at first scan” readers will conclude that there were only one or two votes in each ballot box: we respect our readers’ intelligence; apparently the pro-coup propagandists do not. The TSE’s preliminary count of 60% of the ballot boxes was about 1.7 million. Was that count accurate? And what were the totals from the remaining ballot boxes? It certainly “would be nice to [k]now how many votes were counted.” As of Dec. 2 the TSE still hadn’t told us the final count—presumably because of its “technical problem.”

      And here’s an interesting fact we omitted: TSE magistrate Ortez Sequeira is the son of Enrique Ortez Colindres, who ended his brief career as de facto foreign minister after he called the US president “ese negrito que no sabe nada de nada.” (Libertador, Honduras, Dec. 12; WW4 Report, July 5)

      David L. Wilson
      Weekly News Update on the Americas