Latin America is the scene of two elections today. First there is Honduras, where the president, congress, and municipal councils and mayors are all being elected. There is some considerable international attention on these polls, given the coup in June. I recommend Greg Weeks for perspective. (See also at The Monkey Cage.)
I tend to side with those who say this election is inherently illegitimate, given that it is being held by a de-facto government. On the other hand, it is true that it is being held according to the constitutional schedule that has been in place since long before the coup that ousted the still-legitimate President, Manuel Zelaya. (See Steven Taylor for more on these points.)
In terms of the actual legitimacy of the election, that is something only the most important stakeholders–Honduran voters–can determine. Our best indicator will be the turnout, and on this point I refer you to boz’s discussion of expectations and the spin we can anticipate from both sides.
Each of the country’s 298 mayoral posts will be filled today. It is noteworthy that 60 incumbents have declared themselves “in resistance” to the de-facto government. The linked item notes that mayors, unlike the president, can be reelected.* However, it is not clear to me how many of these 60 are running or how many have boycotted or not sought reelection for any reason. It will be interesting to see how many are actually reelected, and if there is any pattern among mayors-elect in regards to public statements they have made about the coup. (I sure hope someone is keeping track of such things.)
The congress, which has been complicit in the coup and which elected the de-facto president, is fully up for election. Members of congress are permitted to seek consecutive terms, and the electoral system is fully personalized, as it is open-list PR. (This will be the second open-list election.) Voters may cast up to as many preference votes as there are seats in their district–which in 2005 ranged from 2 to 23 (mean about 9). I believe these votes may be cast on different lists. (That is, there is panachage, and so voters are not confined to supporting candidates within one party.) So again, to the extent that incumbents and new candidates have staked out any positions about the current situation, voters would be free to reward or punish them at the elections. (Again, I sure hope someone is keeping track!)
The presidential election is actually the least important. Both candidates are safely within the oligarchic duopoly that has ruled Honduras for just about all its history–when it was not the military ruling (directly or indirectly). The National Party candidate, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, is thought to be well ahead. (The legitimate, but deposed, President Zelaya, is a Liberal.) Zelaya himself had defeated Lobo in a tight race in 2005 (49.9% to 46.2%) in 2005.
As for Uruguay, today we almost certainly will see another Pepe elected. And perhaps the most remarkable thing is how unremarkable it has become that a leftist former guerrilla can become President of Uruguay.
The parallels between the two countries are greater than what might be immediately evident–even beyond electing presidents named Pepe today. Both are relatively small countries that returned to democracy around the same time (mid 1980s) following a period of direct military rule, and both were long among the countries with the oldest and most oligarchic two-party systems. However, in Uruguay, that duopoly began breaking down decades ago, with the rise of a leftist alliance that today should be elected to its second consecutive term (under a different standard-bearer, per the constitution). It seems that just about everyone has gotten over the “leftist tide” in Uruguay, and it is just normal democratic politics. Meanwhile, in Honduras, a President who rose from within the duopoly was alleged by his opponents to be a dangerous leftist and was deposed. Today’s election, unless turnout is very low, evidently will vindicate the oligarchy and military for its actions to close off democratic space in the country.
* And, no, there is no evidence that Zelaya was preparing to change this ban on presidential reelection. No matter how often it is claimed that he was, it simply is not supported by the plain facts. (This has been discussed here previously, just click on “Central America” near the top of this planting and go back to late June and July.)