As an election observer in Honduras, it is painful and disappointing to hear the U.S. ambassador make a statement on election night praising the transparency and fairness of the election process in Honduras. In the days before the November 24 election, I was part of a delegation that visited different communities in struggle for social justice. There we heard accounts of intimidation and vote buying in attempts to coerce the people to vote for the right-wing presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez. For example, community members explained to us how they have been told that they will no longer receive the small welfare payments that many poor Hondurans receive if their community votes the wrong way.
On Election Day, I was part of a small team that visited nine different voting sites in the municipality of Lepaera in the department of Lempira. We were part of a 55-member delegation sent by the Alliance for Global Justice to five different regions. It was impressive to observe the seriousness and dedication of the poll workers and the enthusiasm of the voting public.
But then we encountered evidence of vote buying and other violations of electoral rules, and we also discovered that although all nine parties were given credentials to be at the voting tables, the right-wing National Party was able to exercise control of the voting and counting procedures. This was because the smaller parties were allowed to sell their credential to the National Party. The TSE (the Supreme Electoral Tribunal), which early on called the election for National Party presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez, has accepted that these credentials may be traded or sold. The leftist Partido Libre, which has declared their candidate Xiomarra Castro Zelaya the winner, was not allowed representation on the TSE and was very much underrepresented in poll workers.
The Partido Libre has also demonstrated publicly many discrepancies in the vote count either because vote counts submitted by the local poll workers were tampered with and show ridiculous undercounting of Libre votes and/or do not match the results received by the Partido Libre from the local voting stations. They continue their efforts to obtain a recount in which the actual ballot boxes are reopened to count the ballots in thousands of voting stations where fraud is suspected.
We also found out from reports from our colleagues in other cities, that serious incidents of intimidation including death threats had prevented at least 11 Partido Libre poll workers form carrying out their responsibilities. Overall, numerous violations of the voting rules and democratic process were reported by our delegation members. While not strictly illegal, it is worth mentioning that we witnessed trucks waving the blue National Party banners full of farm workers being transported to the polls. We also saw the National Party had campaign tables set up near and sometimes within the 50 meter boundary of the election site where campaigning is not supposed to be permitted. These tables provided food and sample ballots with the X marked for their candidate Juan Orlando.
The election was fraudulent; we don’t know who won it but we sure know that it wasn’t a free and fair electoral process. Not when one side has a huge advantage in terms of financial backing to carry out its campaign, overwhelming support from the mass-media, control of the electoral tribunal and the submitting and reporting of electoral tallies of votes and holding the election in a climate of intimidation and repression against Partido Libre members and its allies. As an example, the night before the election two more Partido Libre members were assassinated making a total of at least 20 Partido Libre people killed in pre-electoral violence.
Clearly, it was an unfair playing field before, during and after the election, yet the two year old Partido Libre (representing the interests of the majority of Hondurans who are poor and dispossessed) was able to break the two party stranglehold of the oligarchy and obtain, by official TSE account, about 29% of the vote with the Partido National, with all of its advantages, getting about 37%. However, these results should be considered in the context of the unfair playing field, suspect vote tallies submitted by local TSE officials, and the irregularities encountered by our delegations.