Honduras’ Libre Party says election was stolen

For months prior to the Honduran presidential elections of November 24, polls favored the left-wing Libre party candidate Xiomara Castro. One week later the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) had named right-wing National Party candidate Juan Hernandez as the winner and a large Libre Party march through Tegucigalpa was protesting election fraud. A day later, on December 2, the Libre Party demanded a vote recount.

By then, Libre Party adherents, the Anti-Corruption Party, and even the center-right Liberal Party had joined in charging fraud. What happened, some said, was an electoral coup to match the military coup that removed the progressive President Manuel Zelaya from power in 2009.

The National Front for Popular Resistance (FNRP) took shape amidst street demonstrations protesting Zelaya's ouster. The FNRP eventually formed the Liberty and Refoundation Party, known as Libre, whose just  completed campaign advanced a social democratic and anti-imperialist program.

In the November contest presidential candidate Xiomara Castro - ex-president Zelaya's wife - gained 28.8 percent of the recent vote, far below the National Party's 36.8 percent result.

The Anti-Corruption Party's presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla secured 13.5 percent of the votes. The combined totals of that party and the Libre Party account for 42.3 percent of all votes. Second round voting is not part of Honduras' electoral system.

At a press conference on November 29, the Libre Party released its own vote tally. The party's election observers at the polls had received 14,593 out of 16,135 copies of sheets showing voting results. Comparison of that data with figures posted on the TSE website demonstrated 82,301 excess votes assigned to the National Party and 55,720 taken away from the Libre Party. Reportedly, "at least 2,805 sets of certified voting documents were neither transmitted to the political parties nor made public by the TSE."

While demanding a TSE vote recount, Libre Party lawyer Ricci Moncada charged "that on the night of November 24, the TSE removed from the system more than 20 percent of the voting documents sent for further examination due to bar code irregularities." Reporting to the press on November 29, Xiomara Castro declared Libre would not recognize the TSE results. She indicated the votes of 883,140 electors were invalid because of fraud.

Libre partisans described National Party promotion of voter abstention through offers of commercial discounts and cell phones, medical supplies and food. The votes of dead people were cast and live voters were blocked because records showed them to be dead.

The elections played out amidst repression and fear. Reportedly, an anti-terrorist law and militarization of the streets facilitated the imposition of electoral fraud. Assailants killed four Libre Party activists during the voting and subsequently. TSE president David Matamoros released a voting report accompanied by a text message warning that "soldiers and police are already ready in case of any protest."

Three weeks prior to the elections, U.S. ambassador Lisa Kubiske advised Hondurans, "to think hard about which candidate will create more jobs and an atmosphere in which the private sector feels confident about investing." Afterwards she expressed gratification for a "fiesta of electoral democracy."

European Union electoral observers judged the voting to be "transparent." Speaking to a reporter, however, dissenting observer Leo Gabriel of Austria suggested his fellow observers had been pressured. The EU wanted to project a favorable image of Honduras, he alleged, especially in the wake of new EU trade agreements with Central American nations. And, "I can attest to countless inconsistencies in the electoral process.... there was a huge mess at the voting stations, where the hidden alliance between the small parties and the National Party led to the buying and selling of votes." Spanish judge Baltazar Garzón, another international observer, declared, "We all unanimously established that there were clear indications of manipulation and electoral fraud."

News sources offered few indications as to the Libre Party's future direction. Responding to the likelihood of a stolen election, party leaders issued militant declarations of returning to street demonstrations. That rhetoric has quieted. One commentator complained that the leadership "assumes as valid the idea that dominant sectors manage protests." Within the party, that approach, if it exists, may not be universally accepted, and the possibility thus emerges of division within Libre Party ranks.

The theory is that Libre Party caution relates to support received from big business interests, notably from Adolfo Facussé, President of the National Association of Manufacturers. Facussé backed the coup against President Zelaya. His is a powerful, landowning family with far-reaching commercial enterprises.

The Libre Party broke the monopoly on political power the National and Liberal Parties had enjoyed for decades. It elected 39 deputies to the Congress. They and 13 deputies from the Anti-Corruption Party constitute a voting bloc larger than the National Party bench. And there is "a great discontent and a social wakening among youth, workers, and small farmers protesting daily against electoral fraud under the auspices of the FNRP."

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