Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Update on the Honduran Elections

We haven't said much about the election of Porfirio Lobo (save for the possibility of a general amnesty for all actors in the Honduran crisis). Fortunately, the excellent Honduras Coup 2009 blog has been on top of it, with great analysis (including the fact that 100.7% of the votes have been counted, which, suffice to say, seems to indicate that the Tribunal Supremo Electoral is cooking the numbers). Other observations: the vote total was not high enough to give the de facto regime of Micheletti the overwhelming support it hoped to gain, but was not low enough to render the entire election illegitimate, either, leaving Honduras in an awkward position in which "the valid vote count falls in the middle ground between 1.7 and 2.3 million valid votes where Boz suggested both sides could claim victory, as indeed they have."

The possible fraud and the mediocre turnout are not surprising to me. What is particularly intriguing, though, is the possibility for grassroots mobilization in the future based on the events and elections of this year. The number of null and spoiled ballots is also fascinating (including this particular ballot, with the words "Golpistas hijos de puta" ["Coup-leaders sons of bitches/motherfuckers"]). RAJ points out that, after the two main candidates, spoiled/null votes outnumbered the vote total for any of the third-party candidates. What might this mean?

We would suggest that the relevant measure of whether this election met the expectations of the coup regime is somewhat different. Less than 50% of those listed as eligible voted in this election. Of that number, almost 7% turned in ballots that were blank or deliberately spoiled, meaning that the final presidential selection fell to about 43% of the electorate. The trend of alienation from governance that already existed in Honduras intensified with an election that was in no way free and fair.

The big difference this time: hundreds of thousands of people now count themselves as part of a resistance movement that will influence elections in the future. And that includes some large proportion of those who did not vote, or submitted spoiled or blank ballots, as well as those who stayed at home on election day. Porfirio Lobo has no mandate from the people, to add to his lack of influence in his own party and in Honduras' national government.
This could mean nothing. However, it's clear that there is some broad grassroots discontent here, and future parties (including progressive parties) could end up being able to take advantage of this discontent. The fact that half of eligible Hondurans didn't vote also seems that the field could be ripe for a real democratic and progressive alternative to the two parties that generally have ruled in Honduras up to this point. Of course, nothing is certain; Lobo could reign in this discontent through his own policies over the next four years; the global context could shift yet again and affect Honduran politics in ways that are beyond the control of political leaders; or the discontent could just fade away. Still, it's pretty clear that Lobo is in a far from enviable position right now, and it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens with this voter discontent in Honduras (and how the government responds) across the following months and years.