Constitutional crisis in Honduras

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has vowed to defy a Supreme Court order to reinstate the head of the army.

The BBC reports:

Mr Zelaya fired Gen Romeo Vasquez after he refused to help with a referendum on constitutional change that could allow the president to seek a second term.

Both Congress and the courts have already deemed the planned referendum unlawful.

An initial referendum plebiscite* is set for this Sunday,

to ask Hondurans if they approve of holding a vote on unspecified constitutional change at the same time as the presidential election in November.

The story also notes that “hundreds of troops” have been deployed in Tegucigalpa, with the army saying they are there, in the BBC’s words, “to prevent disturbances by the president’s supporters.”

Zelaya, of the Liberal Party, was elected in a close election in November, 2005. He beat Porofirio Lobo of the National Party, 918,669 (49.9%) to 850,005 (46.2%).

The Liberal party has 62 of the 128 seats (48.4%) to the Nationals’ 55. Given that the BBC indicates that congress has declared Zelaya’s referendum unlawful, and the governing party is just a few seats short of a majority, I wonder if all the other parties voted against the president’s own unified party, or if the Liberals are split over the question of auto-succession. I hope someone can fill us in on details.

As for votes, the Georgetown database shows the vote for the two parties as 7,746,806 to 6,983,056. Why so many more legislative than presidential votes? Because Honduras used for the first time in 2005 a very unusual variant of open-list PR in which the voter may cast as many candidate-preference votes as the district’s magnitude (M, the seats elected in the district), which ranges from 2 to 23, and averages 8.8. I do not think the votes can be cast across lists of different parties (which leaves me wondering what is the point of having M preference votes**). I suppose we could get a rough approximation of party votes by dividing a party’s preference votes by 8.8, in which we would estimate around 880,000 for the Liberals and 793,500 for the Nationals. But that would be very rough. For the record, the Liberal total of preference votes is only 44.8% of the total votes cast, suggesting Zelaya’s coattails were limited. But that does not tell us the disposition of his party with respect to his reelection attempt.

Honduras has had a quite stable democracy since 1985 1981. But it does not look so stable right now.

Update: See what boz has to say, including, in the comments, a great quote from the president regarding his handpicked legislative leader, and in two (so far) posts at his blog. He calls one episode in this crisis “one of the more dramatic moments of Latin America politics I’ve seen in recent years.”

* I think a vote submitted unilaterally by the executive on a matter that would benefit the chief executive personally is properly termed a plebiscite, and not a referendum (which implies a legislative act that requires popular confirmation).

Update: a contact tells me that the president is calling it a “survey” and using the national statistical institute, rather than the electoral commission, to carry it out!

** I assume parties must be able to nominate many more than M candidates, or it would really make no sense. Even then, it hardly does, because any given party will win many fewer than M seats, except in the smallest districts. Ecuador also recently adopted a similar M-votes system, except that Ecuadorian voters may vote for candidates on different party lists. I would not even begin to try to explain the complex weighting rules employed for allocating seats to parties there.

3 thoughts on “Constitutional crisis in Honduras

  1. From what I understand, although I don’t have the numbers, many of the Liberals in the legislature oppose Zelaya’s plans for the referendum and constitutional change, even though the party still backs the president in a general sense.

    As for how the president feels about that, from the most recent AP article here’s a Zelaya quote:
    He referred to Congressional President Roberto Micheletti – a member of his own Liberal Party – as “a pathetic, second-class congressman who got that job because of me, because I gave you space within my political current.”

  2. “The late Ferdinand Marcos once cancelled a Presidential election in the Philippines on the grounds that an opinion poll indicated that the people didn’t want one…”

    – Michael Kinsley, “Voters in Chains,” The New Republic (2 April 1990), p 4.

  3. From a press conference in Costa Rica, President Zelaya, still in his pyjamas, reported being “kidnapped” by the military and forced into exile this morning. Zelaya confirmed that he is not seeking asylum in CR; President Arias stated that Zelaya would be his guest tonight and the two would travel together to the planned SICA meeting in Managua tomorrow.

    The international and national press also report that members of Zelaya’s cabinet are being arrested, and ambassadors from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have been detained in Honduras as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Patricia Rodas).

    The Supreme Court has apparently justified the detention of Zelaya as “legal”; the Supreme Electoral Court claims the scheduled Nov 29 general elections still stand; and Congress is expected to meet this afternoon in an extraordinary session where Micheletti would likely be declared acting president.

    It would seem that Zelaya will have to look for external support (OAS, regional leaders) to negotiate his return to Honduras. President Chavez said that ALBA is considering “mechanisms” to respond in support of Zelaya (Alo Presidente, 6/28/09).

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