Los Dos Pepes: Honduras and Uruguay

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.)

8 thoughts on “Los Dos Pepes: Honduras and Uruguay

  1. The congress, which has been complicit in the coup

    Along with the Supreme Court and a large majority of the people.

    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.

    Does democracy mean majority rule, or does it mean leftism regardless of numbers?

  2. The presidency is just about the only office in Honduras, elected or appointed, for which there is a one-term limit.

    Members of Congress, the Supreme Court (who are appointed to seven-year terms), and mayors may go on for long periods in office — and do. Micheletti was in Congress for 20 years.

    It is the tacit support of the U.S. government that has “vindicated” the oligarchy and military’s decision to close off democratic space. The people of Honduras are not going back into passivity; there is a broad political movement for constitutional reform that has been forged by the struggle to reverse this coup.

    Those of us interested in U.S. elections have also had our eyes opened by the words and behavior of the new administration. Oligarchic, military-coddling duopolies aren’t just for Latin American countries…

  3. Nell;

    You know they had an unusually high turnout, right?

    You know that’s the opposite of what former president Zelaya demanded they do, right?

    So why are you still talking?

  4. I rarely say such things, but sometimes it is necessary: It is not considered consistent with the comment policy to ask other commenters things such as “why are you still talking.”

    Such tone is simply not welcome here.

    To answer a question from above, democracy has many dimensions, but one of them never has been the military arrest and forcible exile of an elected president. The election result or the turnout (for which official figures have not yet been released, to my knowledge) can’t change the fact that democratic norms and the Honduran Constitution were violated on 28 June 2009.

  5. MSS;

    My last line was ill-considered and I apologize for it.

    To answer a question from above, democracy has many dimensions, but one of them never has been the military arrest and forcible exile of an elected president. The election result or the turnout (for which official figures have not yet been released, to my knowledge) can’t change the fact that democratic norms and the Honduran Constitution were violated on 28 June 2009.

    I find this somewhat dissatisfying.

    On the merits of what happened, constitutional norms had already been violated (Zelaya’s illegal referendum in open defiance of the courts). Zelaya was a willing associate with very sinister and anti-democratic foreign characters. Democratic norms and the Honduran Constitution were already violated, so even if you’re right, that just means that any situation was unconstitutional and outside democratic norms, including leaving Zelaya in place to continue destroying democracy from within. Why not then choose what is on the merits the better course?

    To be completely clear: although we should take the Honduran Supreme Court’s word for it over yours, the legal question is largely beside the point. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” Zelaya deserved to go, one way or another, and the people were and are in support of real democracy rather than rule by a pseudo-populist strongman. There’s nothing else worth considering.

    Legitimism is untenable because every government in the world is illegal, if we trace it back far enough.

    But that’s not actually why I find the answer unsatisfying. You seemed to be using the phrase “democratic space” to mean space within mainstream politics for a harder left than the Honduran (or American) people is comfortable with, rather than simply the operations of ordinary electoral democracy (which, by every credible account I’ve read, Honduras had on election day). Or at rate rate, I can’t see how else to take the comparison about the “leftist tide” and the idea that the act of voting vindicates the closure of democratic space, rather than keeping it open.

    Does America have a democratic space? If not, what would it look like if we did?

    Does democracy imply certain policy outcomes even if a majority dislikes those outcomes, and just how detailed a prescription does “democracy” make?

  6. Apology accepted. As for the substance of the Honduran constitutional questions, I do not wish to debate them again. This issue was covered here rather extensively at the time (scroll back to July or so in the “Central America” block), as well as in excellent threads–which I participated in at the time–at Two Weeks Notice and at PoliBlog. I have nothing new to say that I have not already said at these various threads.

    I would say, Aaron, that you have seriously misconstrued my understanding of democracy, and the relationship between politics and analysis. But such misconstruction is not actually very important, in the grand scheme. So I shall let it lie.

    If others want to engage the issue, please feel free–civilly, of course.

  7. Now I’m afraid I’m even more confused than ever. If it doesn’t matter, why write anything at all?

  8. People died as a result of this crisis. Zelaya, whom no one has credibly accused of wanting to extend his term (name calling aside) would have left office in due course anyway. The fact that a President that was doing something unlawful had to be removed from office by the army because there was no proper impeachment process sort of proves the case that the Honduran constitution *is* flawed.

    All in all, I think triumphalism is rather inappropriate under the circumstances. And I strongly suspect that people will still be “talking” in Honduras long after you and I have moved on to other things.

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