They Voted for Democracy!
Unlike the case with any other presidential election I can remember, in Sunday's election in Honduras, voter turnout was more important than the actual winner.
If the turnout had been low, the winner would have been a man who was not even in the race. Deposed President Manuel Zelaya, who had been asking his followers to abstain from voting, would have claimed victory from the Brazilian Embassy in Honduras, where he has taken refuge from the criminal charges that still are pending against him.
Zelaya's call for an election boycott upstaged the race between leading candidates Porfirio Lobo, of the conservative National Party, and Elvin Santos, of the Liberal Party. The election was scheduled all along, but because it was conducted under the interim government that replaced the Zelaya administration for the past five months, the legiticimacy of the contest was questioned by those who still argue that Zelaya was removed from office by a coup d'etat.
For the world to recognize the legitimacy of the election and the government it would establish, a high voter turnout was extremely important; it became clear that Honduras' future depended more on how many people would vote than on which candidate they actually voted for.
So before we get to who won, please note that Hondurans flocked to the polls in impressive numbers, resoundingly rejecting not only Zelaya but also all the world leaders pressuring the interim Honduran government to reinstate Zelaya as president.
Zelaya keeps whining about how he has the support of the people — even claiming that the abstention rate was up to 65 percent — but the much more credible Supreme Electoral Tribunal has quite different numbers. Officials reported that the turnout exceeded 60 percent of the 4.6 million registered voters in Honduras. Instead of the expected boycott-driven decrease in voter turnout, this was an impressive hike from the 55 percent turnout in the election that gave Zelaya the presidency, in 2005.
By voting in greater numbers than before, the Honduran people were not only telling Zelaya to stop whining about his ouster but also crying out for the international community to recognize their right to choose their leader democratically.
Although Zelaya was improperly exiled by the Honduran military five months ago, most Hondurans believe he was lawfully removed from office for trying to prolong his reign as president beyond the expiration of his term. They know Zelaya was following the model of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and the increasingly totalitarian Latin American left, and they resoundingly rejected going in that direction.
They know that Zelaya's removal from office was mishandled and that the world community has reasons to question what has happened in Honduras, but they also want the world to know that they have fought the good fight for freedom and democracy and that they have turned the page on Zelaya. He is history. Sunday's election — and its huge turnout — was a statement about Honduras' future.
Ironically, the candidate defeated by Zelaya in 2005 was the same conservative Porfirio Lobo who won Sunday's election by a significant margin.
The Honduran Congress will vote this week on whether to ratify an agreement that would allow Zelaya to return to the presidency until his term expires, on Jan. 27. But because Zelaya wanted to be back in the presidency before Sunday's election, he already has announced that he would reject any offer to return to the presidency now. In other words, all he wants to do now is make trouble.
Even before Lobo was elected, Zelaya vowed that regardless of which candidate was chosen, he would consider the new government to be illegitimate. And now, true to form, he insists on placing himself as the wedge that not only continues to polarize the Honduran people but also creates conflict between the United States and many countries in Latin America.
Why? Because the Obama administration has found the wisdom of standing up for democracy. At first, the U.S. government joined the chorus of leftist Latin American countries that have been calling on the interim government to return Zelaya to power as a precondition for recognizing the election. But later, U.S. officials stopped demanding Zelaya's restitution as a condition for supporting the election. And after voters went to the polls Sunday, a State Department spokesman issued a statement, noting that it was "a necessary and important step forward."
The U.S. position — shared by honorable, democratic governments in Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Peru — is at odds with that of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Paraguay, all of which have indicated that — just as they refused to recognize the interim Honduran government — they will not recognize Lobo as the legitimate president-elect. Like Zelaya, they say the election is invalid because — although it was scheduled even before Zelaya's ouster — it was backed by the "coup leaders" in the interim government.
When the majority of the Venezuelan people keep voting for Hugo Chavez, many of us wonder how they could be so insane, but we still respect their decision to be ruled by a totalitarian clown. We may not like him, but we still recognize Chavez as the president of Venezuela.
When people vote for totalitarian leaders who could end up taking away even their right to vote, we have to wonder whether they really believe in democracy, but we still respect the democratic process.
Yet when the legitimate expression of the will of the people is a complete rejection of Chavez's so-called "socialism of the 21st century," as was the case in Honduras Sunday, the leftist sore losers are standing in line to cry foul. They call themselves democrats, yet they want to deny the Honduran people their right to freely elect their new president. Of course, the first in line was Chavez, who immediately declared that Honduras had run an "electoral farce" Sunday. Some people have no shame.
However, those who examine the Honduran crisis objectively would surely come to the conclusion that the people of Honduras have taught the world a lesson on how to vote. Defying international pressure, they voted for democracy, and they deserve our respect and support.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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