The de facto Honduran government of Roberto Micheletti, installed by a coup d'état which overthrew President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, appears to be resorting to some very strange electoral tactics.
National elections are scheduled for Nov. 29, and neither Zelaya nor Micheletti, both of whom belong to the Liberal Party, are candidates. Rather than the deeply divided liberals, opinion polls are showing Pepe Lobo, presidential candidate of the right-wing National Party, ahead.
But many Hondurans appear to be disgusted with the whole system. Polls also show that about half the eligible voters do not plan to vote. Although electoral participation in Honduras has been low before, this year's political uproar could have been expected to bring out large numbers of voters.
On the left, some candidates, including Rodolfo Padilla, the incumbent mayor of San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second largest city, and independent left-wing presidential candidate Carlos Reyes, have announced they are withdrawing their candidacies in protest against conditions under which the elections are being conducted.
The demand of the left has been that before the elections, Zelaya and constitutional normality had to be restored. Otherwise, the elections would be carried out under repressive conditions, with anti-coup candidates and their supporters under danger of arrest or worse and left-leaning media semi-suppressed, while pro-coup candidates and media face no such restrictions.
An agreement patched together on Oct. 30, whereby Zelaya would be returned to the presidency as party of a "national unity" government, collapsed almost immediately, when allies of Micheletti in Congress refused to vote on the proposal to return Zelaya until possibly after the elections, and Micheletti unilaterally declared himself to be head of the "unity" government, excluding Zelaya.
In spite of the absurdity of trying to carry out a "fair" election under these circumstances, the United States has now declared that it will recognize whoever wins, implying also that economic sanctions will be cancelled.
Zelaya has accused Secretary of State Clinton of having sold out the Honduran people in exchange for Sen. Jim DeMint removing a block he had placed on the confirmation of two Obama nominees to the State Department. The U.S. declaration has removed the incentive for Micheletti and allies to make any concessions at all. Even if other countries in the region follow through with their threats not to recognize the results, Micheletti is well aware that 80% of Honduras' trade is with the U.S.
But a large abstention might still de-legitimize the election. So Micheletti appears to be approaching that threat with a two-track strategy: repression and provocations. Honduran law does not make voting mandatory but Micheletti's government has threatened to imprison anybody who agitates for an electoral boycott. Micheletti has claimed that the boycott is being organized by Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The coup regime is broadcasting dire warnings about "terrorist" attempts to stop the elections, and even the possibility of Nicaraguan and Venezuelan attacks.
Media also report that Honduran employers are threatening to fire workers who do not vote. On Nov. 14, the head of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Enrique Ortez (who in his previous job as coup foreign minister had referred to President Obama as "that little Black cane-cutter") announced that the elections would be carried out with super tight security measures supervised by the army and police, who have been repressing pro-Zelaya agitation since the coup.
On Nov. 13, the coup regime claimed a bomb, delivered by air, had been set off near the warehouse where ballots for the election are being kept, the idea supposedly being to stop the election by destroying the ballots. But Arturo Cano, in the Mexico City daily La Jornada reports not only are there no signs or casualties or damage, nobody has found any remains of the supposed infernal device. This did not stop Ortez from blaming the non-bomb on the resistance or stop the international corporate press as reporting the incident as gospel truth.
What are Micheletti's people playing at? Perhaps if the boycott works, they can blame this on the imaginary terrorism campaign frightening people away. At the same time, the need to mobilize the army and police to "provide security" for the elections is obviously designed to suppress agitation for an electoral boycott, and to intimidate those people who want to vote for anti-coup candidates (not all have withdrawn).
Only two weeks remain to the election, and it's a fair bet there will be more provocations.
Photo: Flag of Honduras, Copyleft