Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Honduran police refuse to enforce curfew (Dec. 5, 2017)

The final count in Honduras' disputed election gives incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández a slim lead over his challenger, Salvador Nasralla: 42.98 percent to 41.39. But the opposition is challenging those numbers, and demands a broader recount, reports La Prensa Gráfica. Nonetheless, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is waiting to declare a winner, as parties can still file legal challenges, reports the Los Angeles Times. Hernández called for calm and to respect the period allotted for challenges, reports El Heraldo.

Violent protests have so far claimed the lives of 11 people, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as of yesterday. The government extended a curfew aimed at curbing violent protests, but reduced the hours residents are not permitted to be on the streets to 8 pm through 5 am, reports La Prensa Gráfica.

But, in a dramatic twist, Honduran police yesterday said they would not enforce a curfew imposed by the government and would remain in their barracks until the political crisis is resolved, reports the Guardian. The announcement includes the elite, U.S.-trained Cobras unit. "We want peace, and we will not follow government orders – we’re tired of this," said a police spokesman yesterday. "We aren’t with a political ideology. We can’t keep confronting people, and we don’t want to repress and violate the rights of the Honduran people."

A member of the Cobras emphasized yesterday that the standing down is not a strike, though some units are demanding a pay raise. "This not about salaries or money. It’s that we have family. We are tired. And our job is to give peace and security to the Honduran people, not repress them. We want all Hondurans to be safe." (See this piece in the Intercept for more on U.S. training for elite Honduran police forces and their role in repressing protests until yesterday.)

The OAS urged both candidates to reach an agreement on how to review ballots and irregularities in order to overcome the political crisis gripping the country, reports El País. "The tight margin of the results, and the irregularities, errors and systemic problems that have surrounded this election do not allow the Mission to hold certainty about the results," said the OAS in a preliminary report.

The OAS report noted irregularities -- such as ballot boxes arriving without security -- as well as unexplained changes in criteria used to count votes midway through the process. Honduran Culture and Politics analyzes the report and notes that it backs Alianza demands to recount about 5000 poll tallies counted after the initial phase of vote counting, when the trend changed, as well as do a complete recount of three rural departments with unusually high turnout.

A member of the European Union observe mission yesterday urged the TSE to wait for parties to present reasonable challenges, and said the process was "far from over."

An analysis by the Economist found the shift from Nasralla's early lead to Hernández's improbable, though "proving fraud through such analysis is fiendishly difficult."

And electoral law might also require a recount of some votes, as the margin between candidates is less than the number of null votes, according to Honduran Culture and Politics.

A magistrate of the TSE has been questioning the results as well, pointing to suspicious failures in the TSE system, after which Nasralla's winning tendency was reverted. In an interview with Carlos Dada in El Faro, magistrate Marco Ramiro Lobo outlines the insider disagreements and how OAS pressure led to the initial electoral night announcement that Nasralla had a 5 point lead.

Nasralla said yesterday he will try to take his case for a wide recount to the OAS, reports the Washington Post.

Several international reporters have been deported, according to the Guardian.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that it was "pleased Honduran election authorities completed the special scrutiny process in a way that maximizes citizen participation and transparency."

And Reuters reported that the U.S. State Department has certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for Honduras to receive millions of dollars in U.S. aid. The certification, signed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was dated Nov. 28, two days after the disputed election. Some U.S. Democrat lawmakers voiced concern that the certification could appear to be taking sides in Honduras.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy denounced the drawn out electoral process that has fomented distrust and suspicion of fraud. He said the U.S. embassy in Tegucigalpa has not been responding to his inquiries regarding the election. "This lack of responsiveness by our government in such a time of crisis is troubling, and I hope it is not a new standard."

On a broader level, the electoral crisis points to positive trends in the region, notably increased intolerance for corruption, argues Charles Call at the Brookings Institution blog Order from Chaos. "After the “Central America Spring” of 2015, when tens of thousands of outraged anti-corruption protesters forced out Guatemala’s president and threatened Hernandez’s rule in Honduras, many wondered whether its impact was ephemeral. On Monday it was apparent that the effect of that outrage persists, and was not captured in the pre-election polls."

But the election also demonstrates worrying trends, such as Hernández's growing control over diverse government institutions, and could contribute to lack of faith in elections, he writes.

"In the medium term, further reform of the campaign finance system and tighter implementation of a 2016 “Clean Politics” law may institutionalize fairer and more transparent campaign practices. An independent TSE, citizen polling observers alongside party representatives, and a second round of voting could enhance the process. And as long as the attorney general continues to push investigations of high-level corruption, continued external support for the OAS MACCIH mission can enhance the capacity and political space to eventually purge corruption from social expectations and political practices. External support will be necessary for internal reformers and pressures to attain political systems that enjoy the confidence of their populations."

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