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LIVE FROM HONDURAS: Electoral Observations

(Photo: Honduras Indymedia)

First published in Upside Down World, 1 December 2009

On the evening of November 29, the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced that a technical error had impeded the “second verification of data” in the tallying of the day’s election results. The error had occurred despite repeated TSE claims that the efficiency of its tallying process would enable Honduras and the world to become acquainted with the country’s next president within hours of the closing of the polls; not explained was the reason for urgency, as Honduras and the world already had two Honduran presidents to keep track of—one elected (Mel Zelaya) and the other the product of the June 28 coup (Roberto Micheletti).

In a televised presentation at the Marriott Hotel in Tegucigalpa, TSE President Saúl Escobar declared that, instead of concealing the day’s technical error, the institution had “made the decision to [reveal] exactly what had happened.” Whether this triumph in TSE transparency was intended to serve as compensation for the lack of transparent election results was not clear, nor was why transparency did not extend to a revelation of what exactly the “second verification of data” consisted of or why it was not possible.

Other attempts to pass off failure as victory in the Honduran context included coup regime glorification of elections as the remedy to all political, social, and economic ills. During the Marriott presentation, TSE magistrate Enrique Ortez impassionedly decreed that the elections had been won by the “Honduran people” and that November 29 would be a date “recorded in gold letters.”

As for inferior records, TSE vote tallies for the presidential race were for the moment replaced with results offered by the TSE-approved association Hagamos Democracia, which assigned 55.77 percent of the vote to National Party candidate Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo and 38.58 percent to Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos. Additional technical failures on the part of the TSE were observed on its website, which I visited the morning following the elections only to find that the link to “VOTE COUNTING AND THE TRANSMISSION OF PRELIMINARY RESULTS” did not exist.

Of the links that did exist, the one entitled “Virtual Observer: Watch the elections online” consisted of three live video options featuring different electoral scenes such as a desk with a scanner. The Virtual Observer had been advertised by the TSE as a way for the international community to witness Honduran democracy; as for non-virtual election observers, these included Israeli Ambassador to Guatemala and non-resident Ambassador to Honduras Eliyahu López and organizations such as the International Republican Institute, which in addition to supporting the 2002 coup against Hugo Chávez happens to have also cooperated in election-related projects in Venezuela and Nicaragua with Hagamos Democracia.

When I initially clicked on the Virtual Observer link I found not only the three videos but also election results for the five presidential candidates, although the figures listed for the total number of votes counted and the overall percentage of voter participation were both 0. A subsequent visit to the site revealed that the tallies had been removed and that only the videos remained; other technical inconsistencies included the TSE’s announcement that voter participation had been over 61 percent despite Hagamos Democracia’s calculation of 47.6.

The Virtual Observer section did not include an option to watch oral cellular phone transmission of electoral data, which was the process that had been hyped by the TSE and the Honduran media as enabling rapid determination of the next president and that was based on the distribution of 20,000 specially-purchased phones to electoral tables around the country. Rapidity was less of a priority among other organs of the Honduran state such as the National Congress, which had postponed consideration of Zelaya’s restitution until December and thus underscored the illegitimacy of the elections; as for the effectiveness of cellular transmissions of critical data, this was called into question by the frequency with which Honduran cell phone communications were reduced to such phrases as: “Can you hear me?”

The system lost further credibility yesterday at one of the electoral tables at the Tegucigalpa polling station of Iglesia Vida Abundante, where the woman in charge of reporting the results to the main TSE computing center proved less than certain as to reporting protocol but agreed that numbers involving multiple digits would probably be reported one digit at a time. She additionally assured me that whatever she reported would be recorded and shrugged at the possibility of a lack of cell phone reception at the time of recording; other technical obstacles were identified at a voting station in the lower-class neighborhood of El Pedregal, where the cell phones at several electoral tables were not functioning.

TSE President Escobar’s declaration that there was “absolutely nothing to doubt about these elections” was aided by Honduran media traditions of obsequiousness, manifestations of which included radio commentators vying to provide the most euphoric fabrication of Honduran hordes descending upon voting centers and the daily El Heraldo’s “minute by minute” election updates such as: “9.41 p.m.: Day of glory. Honduras is one big carnival.” Not explained was whether Honduran carnivals always entailed military and police repression of peaceful election day protests in San Pedro Sula.

A citizen at one of the voting centers claimed that past elections had been more celebratory in nature and cited the current absence of vehicular caravans—an absence that persisted until the following day when the Resistance proved its adeptness at organizing large numbers of like-minded automobiles. As for TSE magistrate Ortez’ proclamation that the countries of the world had the moral obligation to recognize the Honduran electoral process, it would seem that moral obligations might also be assigned to electoral magistrates claiming to speak for 7 million Hondurans.

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