Honduran election outcome disputed. Presidential candidate with most votes likely to challenge results

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The Honduran elections are over, but the dealmaking has just begun. The bargaining for the presidency will involve the most powerful groups that dominate this small country -- the political parties, the armed forces, the oligarchy, incumbent President Roberto Suazo C'ordova, and the United States Embassy.

At stake in these negotiations is not just who will be president, but whether or not any sort of stable government emerges from Sunday's elections.

Although Jos'e Azcona Hoya of the Liberal Party has won the presidency, the National Electoral Tribunal has until Dec. 21 to issue a list of winning presidential, legislative, and municipal candidates. But once that list is issued, Mr. Azcona's presidential victory can, and almost certainly will, be challenged in the Supreme Court.

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Azcona won the presidency because of the terms of an unusual pact made last spring by the main political parties and the armed forces. The pact provided that the leading candidate of the party with the most votes becomes president. Before the pact, the individual candidate who received the most votes, won.

Of the four Liberal Party candidates, Azcona received the most votes. The Liberal Party won more votes than any other party. But the most popular individual candidate was Rafael Leonardo Callejas, of the opposition National Party.

Despite the terms of the pact, Mr. Callejas's supporters were out on the streets celebrating his election.

Morazan Boulevard is the ``main drag'' for much of Tegucigalpa's gilded youth. Lined with expensive restaurants, caf'es, pizza parlors, and movie houses, on weekend nights it is usually full of young upper and upper-middle class men driving their cars from one end of the avenue to the other. But Monday night the boulevard was full of average Hondurans in pickup trucks, battered campaign jeeps, and any vehicle they could find, waving blue-and-white Callejas banners and beeping their horns furiously.

Despite the fact that Callejas signed the pact last spring, his National Party has indicated that it will not concede the presidency and it will challenge the constitutionality of the agreement in the Supreme Court.

Whether or not the National Party will succeed in its appeal depends mainly on the position of the Army, which in the final analysis controls the Supreme Court, according to many Hondurans.

Although a clear majority of Army officers supports Callejas, the Army's actions until now, have indicated that they will continue to abide by the pact.

The Army is placing political stability and the desire of presenting an image of successful elections in Honduras above their political preferences, say Honduran and foreign political analysts.

Diplomatic sources here say the Army has acted in this campaign ``as a sort of interpreter and enforcer of a national consensus.'' Most Hondurans do not want to disrupt the electoral process nor give incumbent President Suazo Cordova a chance of somehow maintaining power, Honduran analysts say. Therefore, the Army will ensure that the appeals to Azcona's victory are turned down in the Supreme Court and that the pact is respected, observers close to the Army say.

If the Supreme Court overthrows the pact and awards the presidency to Calle-jas, the electoral system would be completely disrupted. The Supreme Court would probably be unable to change just the presidential victory, diplomatic sources here say. In the end the Supreme Court would have to declare the legislative and municipal elections invalid.

If that happens the entire election would have to be held again. An interim government would be installed. Such a government, according to the Constitution, would be headed by the Interior Minister, Arturo Pineda Rendon, and would preside over a council of ministers. Since Mr. Pineda is considered, along with the other cabinet ministers, a prot'eg'e of President Suazo, this could risk giving the incumbent president another chance to remain in power. Suazo's manipulations in order to retain power are con sidered the cause of the current crisis.

Many Hondurans are concerned with Suazo's future actions. It is speculated that he dislikes Azcona and would prefer Callejas as president. Hondurans speculate that Suazo might try to disqualify Azcona from the presidency by charging that Azcona is not Honduran-born or by inventing a scandal alleging that Azcona was involved in a financial scheme while a member of Suazo's Cabinet.

Azcona's enemies are allegedly telling Army officers that if Azcona becomes president he will cut the military budget and attempt to prosecute Army officers guilty of human rights abuses.

The US is strongly against disrupting last spring's pact although Callejas was alleged to command much support in US government circles, political analysts here say. US concerns for Honduran political stability comes first, they say.

Although Azcona will probably be declared president, his control over Congress will be tenuous. He will have to contend with Callejas's supporters as well as with followers of Suazo's faction.

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