14 thoughts on “What to do about Lobo

  1. From boz’s “case against rejecting elections”:

    If the international community doesn’t recognize elections, then they condemn Honduras to not having a single elected leader in any position next year.

    Apparently, just because you’ve elected some leaders doesn’t mean you’ve got elected leaders. Incredible.

    Tell me, do you think democracy is legitimate in itself, or does the international community (whoever that is) delegate the right to conduct elections to the peoples of the world?

  2. The issue is not delegation by the international community but the legitimacy of the elections themselves. The international community, as somewhat inadequately represented by various organisations within the UN and OAS and by individual governments, has made itself fairly clear.

  3. If the “international community” can choose to grant or withhold legitimacy to elections, in what respect are the offensive implications different in any respect from declaring it a delegation of authority the people would not otherwise possess?

  4. If a particular national community is itself divided over the legitimacy of an electoral process (not simply “some dislike the result”), then international pressure may be a tiebreaker.

    However, global governance is not presently strong enough to override a determined consensus within a nation-state that it will run its own elections, thanks very much, even if 49.99% voted for the losing party. (I can’t see too many Republicans going to the UN to complain that ACORN rigged the 2008 US elections…)

    And this, I think, is the best balance between the sovereignty of a democratic national community and a “decent respect for the opinions of [hu]mankind” – between the Lockean ideal of government and law by federative consent and the Kantian/ Levinasian ideal of moral duties prior and superior to our agreement.

    Analogous to the present situation where the UN can – if it wants – take over a failed state and back down local militias and warlords, by deploying Blue Helmets borrowed from participating member states – but is not strong enough to depose functioning, accepted-as-legitimate governments at will. And rightly so.

  5. If giving or withholding recognition to an election is a delegation of authority, would it not then follow that in Bush v Gore the US Supreme Court delegated the election of president to the American people?

  6. Tom Round;

    As far as that goes you’re probably right. I’ll just point out that there don’t seem to be any major social groups or any popular movement rejecting the elections. It’s not the kind of situation you have in mind.

    Boz isn’t proposing to recognize something that would exist independently of his recognition, like a geologist determining which mineral he’s found or, closer to the topic at hand, election official counting the vote and certifying the winner. He’s suggesting reasons of policy for accepting or rejecting the elections, and that not even an amoral realpolitic that offers no pretense of moral right; he really thinks the “international community” has a right to make decisions for Honduras based of their idea of its best interests, as if the peoples of the world were children who could be declared wards of the court.

    (Of course, the only thing the Declaration said “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required of us was some comment as to why we were declaring independence. We weren’t asking permission.)


    No, actually, it doesn’t follow. No one involved in the case questioned that, given whatever counting procedure was right, the one who got the most votes in Florida (and therefore carried the electoral college) was the legitimate winner and would be the legitimate President. The issue was the counting procedure. (Specifically whether to follow the old tradition that in close elections the ballots are counted, recounted, and rerecounted until the Democrat wins, at which point we immediately need to move on, and the Republican graciously acknowledges the “will of the people”.)

    If it did follow, would you find that objectionable in itself, or just because you dislike the winner?

  7. The details of Bush v Gore do not alter that it was a court recognizing the legitimacy or otherwise of an election. My opinion of that case is irrelevant.

    The issue here is not whether the winner of the election should be come president. The issue is whether the necessary conditions for a free election existed at all.

  8. Alan;

    No one disputed that the election was legitimate or that the Clinton administration had the right to preside over it.

    The issue is whether the necessary conditions for a free election existed at all.

    Then you’re talking about something different from boz. If you’ll admit that free elections are inherently legitimate, then either it was a free enough election to count, or it wasn’t. The notion that the “international community” can choose whether or not to let Honduras have elected leaders wouldn’t enter into it.

  9. There’s clearly a spectrum of legitimacy, not simply a black and white decision. You could try to order elections along this spectrum, based on the extent of voting irregularities, voter and candidate intimidation, open political debate, etc. Here’s a short list based on my own judgement:

    * Germany 2009 (most free)
    * India 2009
    * Russia president 2008
    * Zimbabwe parliament 2008
    * Cuba 2008 (least free)

    Personally, I have no trouble at all considering Angela Merkel the elected leader of Germany, but I don’t consider Raul Castro the legitimately elected leader of Cuba, regardless of whether or not he received the most votes. (Apparently, just because you’ve elected some leaders, doesn’t mean you’ve got elected leaders!) If enough powerful people agree with me about Castro then one might say that the “international community” doesn’t recognize his election, and wouldn’t treat Cuba as a democratic country.

    So what about the cases in the middle? Usually we’ll hear things like “[O]bservers said…Russia’s presidential elections reflected the will of voters, but questioned the fairness of the polls.” In other words, as boz put it, we might say “the elections should be recognized for what they were: a flawed expression of democracy”. This is more or less what the free world has been doing for countries like Russia, Zimbabwe, Iran and Afghanistan, I’m not sure why we should suddenly change.

    The big question remains, just how free and fair was the election in Honduras? It looks like any boycott wasn’t very extensive, but there have been some arrests and media closings. I’d probably judge it somewhere between India and Russia in the list above, and be willing to accept it with caveats. However, it would definitely be a bad thing if army leaders throughout the world get the impression that they can eject governments whenever they like, with no adverse consequences. (It’s probably more easily argued that Dubya violated the constitution than that Zelaya did, but I hardly think a kidnapping by the US army would have been a positive reaction!) I’d want to see some or all of the following in Honduras:

    * Legal or constitutional changes/clarifications: We need a procedure for impeachment, a legally-defined and -limited procedure for constitutional conventions, and for the army to be legally precluded from running elections. The lack of clarity on these issues provided most of the conditions for this crisis.

    * Assurances that the army won’t take over the government again, or threaten to do so. It’s hard to see how this could be credible, but explicit assurances before elections would be nice. A resignation or two could work, even if along the lines of “What I did was necessary, so now I’m facing the consequences.”

  10. Vasi;

    Of course, Cubans didn’t elect anyone: “elect” means choose. Calling it an election with no element of choice is an abuse of the language. If you’re going to abuse the language that way, at least be consisted and give Raul Castro his unearned title as an elected leader.

    There’s something real you’re pointing out, which is that we have different levels of confidence that a given election has produced a “legitimate” (i.e., majority-supported) winner. But your insistence that any kind of messiness makes the election less legitimate only confuses things needlessly. If we know that a majority of Russians want Putin and his allies in charge, making the election cleaner, while desirable for other reasons, adds nothing to the majoritarian character of the result. On the other hand, if a perfectly fair election produces a result with only a few votes’ difference between the front-runners, we don’t and can’t know who really got a majority, and a majority that close isn’t meaningful anyway.

  11. Its strange to see Americans debating this.

    If you accept the final Florida results, George W Bush was legally and constitutionally chosen as US president in 2000, but he wasn’t “elected” in any sense that the term is used in most of the world. By every count his opponent got more votes nationwide.

    Diplomatically, does how the election was conducted really matter? If another country wants to deal with whoever controls Honduras, they aren’t going to go to the president ousted by a coup, even if the ouster and subsequent election was illegal. They have to deal with whatever strongman actually controls Honduras.

    There are really three concepts here in terms of recognition, who actually runs the country, who would run the country according to the country’s own laws, and who we think should run the country if the leadership selection process was up to snuff by international standards. Historically, diplomacy really just focused on the first concept, and maybe the more realist view is correct. If you don’t like who runs Honduras or how they got there, you can always keep your dealings with that country to a minimum.

  12. Big IF, Ed. But really that takes us pretty far afield from Lobo. I think it is safe to say that even if Bush had been installed by a military coup, other governments would have gone on dealing with the USA regardless. But Honduras is in a rather different situation in the world, independent of one’s assessment of the legitimacy of the just-held elections.

    (And I don’t think the electoral college, per se, changes the definition of “elected” or is the main issue that one would raise in questioning the legitimacy of the 2000 election. Again, it is really not relevant to Honduras, where there is a direct election by plurality, and in any case no one is questioning the vote count, per se.)

  13. Ed;

    I think the most basic concept underlying who gets recognized is simple and amoral: who it suits our purposes to recognize. That acknowledges the reality that other countries’ choice of who (if anyone) to recognize may not be connected to any local reality at all, although generally it would be whoever is actually running things.

    If you accept the final Florida results, George W Bush was legally and constitutionally chosen as US president in 2000, but he wasn’t “elected” in any sense that the term is used in most of the world. By every count his opponent got more votes nationwide.

    Much the same thing (ignoring here the issues with the count itself) happened in the UK a few times. Any time any election goes through intermediaries who are not strictly proportional, and any time an election uses the plurality method, countermajoritarian results will happen sometimes. The U.S. Electoral College and the British House of Commons both combine these vices. But “international standards” are beside the point, of course.


    Every ballot was counted at least twice.

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