[This article was written on Wednesday 27 of October] Three days after the end of the elections in Honduras the results have still not been published. Despite this, the Supreme Electoral Committee has declared the “victory” of the extreme right-wing Nationalist Party candidate for president of Honduras. Several right-wing regimes have already congratulated him on the “victory”. Meanwhile the masses are protesting in the streets in order to defend their votes and while the fear of electoral fraud grows, so does the demand for a transparent recount.
“Honduras has spoken. I am the next president of Honduras. With the help of the people and God, we will change Honduras” declared the right wing presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez from the conservative National Party just three hours after the voting centres closed at Sundays general election in Honduras. But in this moment, when this article is written, three days after the closing of the election, final results have not been published. Nonetheless, this has not stopped the controversial Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE - Tribunal Supremo Electoral) from publishing “preliminary” results continually. On Tuesday, with just 67,64% votes counted, it declared that Hernandez had clearly won the election with 34,08% of the votes while the left wing candidate of LIBRE Xiomara Castro came in second with 28,92% and the Liberal Party third with 20,70% (the latest release of the “results” with 83,88% of the votes counted gives officially the National Party 36,23% and LIBRE 28,92%).
Clearly a problematic process. Together with the almost infinite number of examples of democratically problematic events up to and after the voting, a clear picture emerges: that the “winner” of the election had already been selected long before the first vote was ever casted.
The struggle for democracy
Sunday’s election in Honduras, which included presidential, parliamentary, local and Central American parliament elections, has been long awaited. In the last four years, Honduras has been inmersed in a political crisis since the military, supported by the Nationalist Party and the majority of the Liberal Party, seized power in 2009 in a bloody coup and toppled the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. Manuel Zelaya had original been elected for the Liberal Party but then took a left turn and tried to expand democracy and improve the conditions for the working class and the poor of Honduras. The term “banana republic” was coined originally in reference to Honduras, to illustrate the fact that a handful of US fruit companies dominate the political and economic life of the country through the agency of their local cronies, a few wealthy families of land owners, media barons, bankers and capitalists, the rotten oligarchy. Fundamentally, not much has changed since then.
While his turn to the left generated enormous popularity among the poor majority, 65% of the population, it made Zelaya a hated figure in the upper class and in his own party. When he tried to carry out a popular referendum on a series of democratic changes to the constitution in 2009, it became too much for the upper class, which chose to depose him in a military coup. This lead to a historic crisis and triggered revolutionary mass protests and street fighting between the poor of the nation on the one side and the powerful military on the other.
Later the same year the coup makers held a pseudo election, which the left wing boycotted in protest against the continued control of the coup makers and the lack of democratic possibilities. Since the military coup Honduras has seen an explosion in violence and gang war as well as a renew rise in poverty. In addition, we have seen violent crackdowns by the military against any opposition to the regime and a long list of political murders of peasant, trade union, youth, journalists and human rights activists. At the same time the left wing have been strengthen and has created the first mass left wing party in Honduras in many years; LIBRE (Partido Liberación y Refundación, The Freedom and Refoundation Party), led by Zelaya. It was hoped that Sunday’s election could have been the first step in a democratic development, with Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, running for president against the two traditional parties of the powers that be of Honduras politics, the conservative National Party and the Liberal Party.
Censorship and closing of Medias
In the run up to the election, we saw an intensified campaign by the regime and military against independent and critical media. Thus, the election committee enforced last Thursday a ban on media reporting of election results and tendencies, exit polls and ballot counting from individual voting centres before the election committees own official release. It has become clearer and clearer that this ban was instituted in order to give the regime-aligned election committee absolute control over the election result. At the same time as they forbid exit polls, reporting from individual voting centres and other independent control mechanisms, the election committee gave themselves the previously unheard of right to release “preliminary results” from the ballot counting which the election committee has done continuously since the election.
The importance of this control can be seen by the fact that independent reports from individual voting centres have given the directly opposite picture of the electoral result and given electoral victory to LIBRE and Xiomara Castro with a 4,5 percentage point lead. By securing itself against independent election results reports and at the same time giving itself the right to publish preliminary results, the election committee had set the perfect conditions for electoral fraud. Thus, it is not even safe to say that the election committee has necessarily cheated directly with the votes to achieve the “right” result, although much point toward directly ballot fraud. It would be possible simply to choose carefully which voting centres to count first. In a society as polarised as Honduras it is clear that wealthy areas would give a large majority to the right wing while the poor neighbourhoods would give a vast majority to the left wing. By choosing to count the ballots from the wealthy voting districts first and then continuously publishing preliminary results from those areas it would be possible to create an image of who had won the election without this necessarily having anything to do with the overall reality.
This is exactly what LIBRE supporters fear is happening. Manuel Zelaya has declared that the electoral commission has chosen only to publish results that are positive towards the right wing and the National Party and consciously chosen not to count thousands of ballot boxes from areas thought to be sympathetic towards LIBRE. Among other things, 20% of the votes had not arrived for the central ballot counting and therefor hadn’t been counted into the result. It is precisely from those areas where the left wing has most likely won.
The attacks on the free press have also included the closing of medias. On Election Day itself, the military stormed the studio of the independent and critical radio station Radio Globo and shut down their broadcasting signal. At the same time, the military arrived in a threatening outside the critical stations Channel 11 and Channel 36 in a threatening move.
Much though points toward there being also a more direct rigging of the voting. Especially the slow ballot counting is worrying. Even for an underdeveloped country like Honduras, which even among the underdeveloped countries of Latin America is notorious for its inefficiency, so slow a counting is unheard of. This could point towards the electoral committee having a harder time than expected in rigging the election and securing a right wing victory. Meaning that the left wing have properly win such a large margin that electoral fraud cannot be carried out as simply and efficiently as planned.
It is also possible that the slow pace of the ballot counting is meant to give the right wing time to cement its grab for power, among other things giving it time to secure international recognition from both media and governments, before a final result is published. If it will in fact ever be published. International experience knows of episodes where election results have never been presented because it wasn’t possible to carry out election fraud in the necessary extent.
It’s telling that the right wing regimes of Panama and Guatemala were the first to congratulate the National Party on winning the election just a few hours after polling stations closed. These are regimes notoriously known for their lack of respect for democracy. The right wing government of Guatemala massacred peaceful demonstrators and carried out political assassinations just as the government of Panama have used the military against popular demonstrations. Later, also the right wing government of Colombia has joined the chorus of countries recognising the “victory” of the National Party. Coming from a country where voting takes place with armed death squads looking over your shoulder and which continuously holds a top position in the world for political murders, this doesn’t really says good things about the democratic standards of the Honduran election.
From all over the country complains have flooded in over the voting process. Including several reports of vote buying at polling stations and bribing of representatives of smaller parties to give their votes and election supervisors to the National Party. Up to the election there has also been well know examples of the National Party government using state funds to hand out free credit cards and goods as free houses and money in exchange for voting for the National Party.
Violence and threats
Several international election observers have also denounced massive fraud, among them the delegation of the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC. Several electoral observers have also announced that they have been threatened and intimidated in the days up to the election by heavily armed and masked persons just as many electoral observers have been refused access to polling stations. Election observers from the democracy movement CESPAD (Centro de Estudio para la Democracia) have likewise reported about being intimidated and assaulted by National Party activists that were in the process of manipulating the election.
Carlos Matute from CESPAD have told that the threats came after several voters had informed him that they had seen about a hundred votes already in the ballot box right after the polling station opened. In addition, the Washington based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has reported that several polling stations were closed during the ballot counting although this is forbidden in order to secure the public access to supervise the counting.
Violence during the election campaign led to two murders of LIBRE leaders the day before the election and the death of five persons in Mosquitia which lead to the election being suspended completely in that region. Since May 2012, 18 candidates and activist of the LIBRE party have been murdered. In addition the fourth largest party in Honduras, the newly founded Anti-Corruption Party have also cried foul and accused the election committee of electoral fraud. According to the newest results released from the election committee, the Anti-Corruption Party have gained 13,99% of the votes.
”Vote by vote”: The left wing fights to defend its votes
In contradiction to the official results of the election committee, LIBRE has declared itself the victor based upon reports from the individual polling stations and declared that they refuse to accept the fraud of the election committee or recognize Hernandez as president. On a press conference, Zelaya, on behalf of LIBRE and Xiomara Castro, accused the election committee and the National Party of electoral fraud and demanded a recount “Poll by poll, vote by vote, town by town” under the supervision of the parties in order to ensure a transparent and democratic credible recount. Meanwhile hundreds of LIBRE supporters shouted “To the streets, to the streets!” in a call, supported by LIBRE party leadership, for mass protests to defend the vote of the people against fraud. There have already been several demonstrations and protests, several of them having been heavily suppressed, including the arrest of 50 students protesting against fraud. Yesterday the protests continued as Xiomara Castro declared that the fraud meant that Honduras in reality was still a dictatorship. Nothing seems to indicate that the situation will calm down in the near future.
The bourgeoisie of Honduras and the USA fears a victory for Xiomara Castro because they fear the enormous mass movement behind her, a movement born out of the struggle against the 2009 military coup. They understand that this movement can have revolutionary implications and threaten their position as the country’s ruling class. This is why they will go as far as electoral fraud and military repression to deny LIBRE its victory.
This entire situation proves the hollowness of bourgeois democracy in a country like Honduras. As soon as the president begins to defy the elite even in the slightest, as we saw in 2009, he will be removed by the military. The deal struck in 2011 that secured Manuel Zelayas return to the country, under the condition that he would not run for president, made it possible to legalize the struggle of the National Front of the Popular Resistance FNRP (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular) and transform the resistance movement into the party LIBRE that would then be able to mobilize the masses around a program and its candidature for this election. However, political assassinations continued as did the repression of the movement and now we see that the concessions made by the ruling class with the deal of 2011 were in no way a display of good will and that they are not prepared to recognize the real results a free election would produce.
Once again events show that the left and the poor of Honduras can have no confidence in bourgeois “democracy” nor the state. Only through their own forces and their own struggle can they win real progress for democracy and in the fight against poverty. We appeal to LIBRE, FNRP and the popular movements and trade unions in Honduras to continue and expand the mass mobilizations against fraud and to call for a general strike.
All over Honduras local committees should be set up to organize and discuss the continued struggle, in working places, the poor neighbouroods and centers of education. Internationally, the mass of immigrants and refugees from Honduras must organize together with the local trade unions, the left and democratic movements in order to organise solidarity and to put pressure on the governments to refuse to recognize any government in Honduras which does not hold a proven and transparent democratic mandate from the people.
The future of Honduras is decided in these days in the struggle between the working class and suppressed masses of Honduras against the oligarchy that holds the power of the entire state apparatus, and is supported by the US and all the corrupt and anti-democratic regimes of the region. In this struggle we stand shoulder to shoulder with the struggling people of Honduras.