Yes, Hondurans went to the polls on Sunday and elected a new President – Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party. However, considerable doubt remains over whether the election should be recognized by the country’s hemispheric neighbors in light of the controversy under which it was carried out.
It is clear that of the votes tallied, Lobo won by a significant margin over the second-place Liberal Party candidate, Elvin Santos. The lingering question is whether a significant number of Zelaya supporters (mostly Liberal Party memebers) chose to boycott the vote in protest of the deposed President’s ouster. If so, Lobo may be considered an illegitimate leader who did not actually capture a majority of the vote.
Unfortunately, data on voter turnout is not yet clear. The Americas Quarterly blog writes that conflicting reports continue to shed doubt on the situation:
This debate remained unsettled on Sunday night, when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a preliminary voter turnout rate of 61.3 percent, while the nongovernmental observer group, Hagamos Democracia, announced an estimated turnout from its quick count at 47.6 percent.
Looking at voter turnout, if one accepts the TSE figure for 2009, then this election has turned the tide of declining voter participation in Honduras. Proponents of this argument have already argued that such turnout—in the face of protests and boycott threats—reflects the legitimacy of the elections and the fact that the vast majority of Hondurans want to move on from the Zelaya-Micheletti debacle. Hondurans spinning the election from this side see this result as a clear proxy vote against Manuel Zelaya.
Meanwhile, the Hagamos Democracia figure suggests that many eligible Hondurans stayed away from the polls. Zelaya’s supporters will use this figure to suggest that most Hondurans heeded Zelaya’s call for a boycott and were too scared of military and police repression to vote. From this perspective, the elections do not reflect the will of the people. Instead, the coup led to an increase in abstentionism, which would be consistent with a rise in the apathy or disgust of Honduran voters with the political establishment.
Like them, we’ll be keeping out eyes out for the National Democracy Institute (NDI) report due to come out this week. Hopefully their data will shed light on whether the National Party truly deserved a win on Sunday, or if enough Hondurans contested the elections for their legitimacy to be questioned.
By Mary Tharin