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Hondurans go to the polls despite call for boycott

An official says the presidential election is proceeding without incident. Ousted leader Manuel Zelaya and his supporters say the vote is illegal.

November 29, 2009|By Alex Renderos
  • A woman votes in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where police broke up pro-Zelaya demonstrations.
A woman votes in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, where police broke up pro-Zelaya… (Arnulfo Franco / Associated…)

Reporting from Tegucigalpa, Honduras — Hondurans are voting today in a presidential election that many hoped would restore legitimacy to their national government five months after a military-backed coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

But Zelaya and his supporters branded the vote illegal and called for a boycott.

Streets here in the capital, Tegucigalpa, were calm through the morning. Voting stations reported varying degrees of attendance, so it was difficult early to determine the turnout. Army patrols were seen in some poorer neighborhoods, where support for Zelaya is strongest.

The international community, which failed in its efforts to reverse the coup, is split over whether to recognize the results of today's vote, with the United States at odds with much of Latin America.

After initially condemning the coup vigorously, the Obama administration ultimately decided it had no choice but to support elections with the hope that the country could move on. Many have accused Washington of essentially allowing a coup to stand.

Many other countries, however, contend that a de facto regime like the one that replaced Zelaya cannot be trusted to conduct "fair and free" elections.

Enrique Ortez of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said that voting was proceeding without incident and that he hoped the process would end the diplomatic and political isolation imposed on Honduras after the coup.

"We want the international community to reflect and listen to the voice of Hondurans," he said on radio and television.

Zelaya's supporters were having none of it.

"This is an electoral farce," said Rafael Alegria, a leader of the protest movement that rose in the deposed president's defense. "How can you have legitimate elections, if the regime is not legitimate?"

Porfirio Lobo, a wealthy landowner from the conservative National Party, was the front-runner going into today's vote with a large margin.

None of the leading candidates offered solutions to the deep economic disparities that have plagued this impoverished Central American nation for decades. Lobo has indicated he would be willing to talk with Zelaya.

Zelaya, a timber tycoon whose shift to the left alienated Honduras' well-entrenched elite, was ousted June 28, and the army deported him to Costa Rica. He was deposed as he explored the possibility of changing the constitution, an effort courts deemed illegal. His enemies accused him of attempting to find a way to remain in power, something he denied.

Much of the international community had demanded he be reinstated before today's vote to finish out a term ending Jan. 27. But intransigence by the de facto rulers who replaced Zelaya, as well as by Zelaya himself, thwarted progress.

Zelaya sneaked back into the country Sept. 21 and has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa.

Renderos is a special correspondent.

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