Dexter Boniface

Posts Tagged ‘United States Government’

Latin America’s Elections in 2012: The Dominican Republic

In Dominican Republic, Elections, Mexico, Venezuela on May 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Latin Americans head to the polls in 2012 to elect presidents in the Dominican Republic (Sunday, May 20), Mexico (Sunday, July 1) and Venezuela (Sunday, October 7). Voters in the United States do the same on Tuesday, November 6.

The Dominican Republic. In a partial replay of the 2000 contest, the 2012 presidential election in the D.R. pits former President Rafael Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004) against incumbent party nominee Danilo Medina of the PLD (Dominican Liberation Party). One of the more remarkable aspects of the election is who is not running. After contemplating a new round of constitutional changes to enable his re-election, current and three-time President Leonel Fernandez (1996-2000; 2004-2012) declined to seek a fourth term (though he will be eligible to run again in 2016). Fernandez’s wife, first lady Margarita Cedeño, followed suit, declining a presidential bid. She opted instead to run as Danilo Medina’s vice-presidential running mate on the PLD ticket. Danilo’s challenger Hipólito Mejía (whose presidency was marred by a severe economic crisis) trails by a small margin in recent polls. Like the 2000 contest, the 2012 election is likely to be seen as a referendum on the market-friendly policies pursued by President Leonel Fernandez; under his tenure, the Dominican Republic has experienced positive economic growth but unemployment, poverty and inequality remain stubbornly high.

Rise of the Transnational Voter? The other remarkable feature of the election is that it could be decided by (Dominican) voters in the United States. In recent decades a growing number of Latin American countries have extended the right to vote to citizens living abroad. In 2012, lawmakers in the Dominican Republic went a step further, enacting new legislation which enables foreign residents to choose seven overseas representatives (three from the United States and Canada), in addition to casting their vote for President and (under the new legislation) Vice-President as well. Historically, Latin American voters living abroad have not had much of an impact on election outcomes. This election could be different for two reasons. First, the size of the D.R.’s foreign electorate is relatively large (recent numbers compiled by the Observatorio Politico Dominicano indicate that one in twenty Dominican voters resides abroad, most of them in the United States; out of a total of 6.5 million eligible voters, more than 223,000 reside in the United States). Second, the presidential election is relatively close. Then again, as blogger James Bosworth points out, if Dominicans living abroad do not hold a strong partisan preference (in contrast to, say, Venezuelans abroad), or do not turn out in high numbers (turnout is generally low among foreign voters), their impact on the 2012 election may yet be inconsequential.

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Elections in Honduras (2009)

In Democratic Crisis, Elections, Honduras, Inter-American Relations, United States Government on November 26, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Who will succeed Manuel Zelaya/Roberto Micheletti and will their election to power be viewed as legitimate? The controversial Honduran election pits Zelaya’s would-be successor and Liberal Party rival, Elvin Santos, against Zelaya’s 2005 challenger Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the conservative National Party.

Lobo carried the day–in part because of his promise to return Honduras to normalcy. His rival, Elvin Santos, once led the polls but was weakened by a rift in the Liberal Party provoked by Zelaya’s ouster. Lobo promised to launch a national dialogue to ameliorate political polarization in the country and called for an amnesty for all those involved in the coup (both Zelaya and the military leadership faced charges for abuse of power). Lobo furthermore indicated he was willing to meet with Zelaya.

The Election Controversy: Can Honduras Vote Itself Out of a Coup?

The controversy surrounding Honduras’ elections stems from the illegal ouster of incumbent President Manuel Zelaya some five months ago (see my blogpost: Coup in Honduras). After months of failed negotiations Zelaya remains out of power, holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Many countries have vowed not to recognize the outcome of the country’s elections in protest of the president’s ouster. Zelaya’s supporters in Honduras promised to boycott the election. The leading candidates for their part backed a negotiated solution to the crisis but appeared to be opposed to Zelaya being reinstated before the election. They urged the international community not to punish the next government.

A strong case can be made for not recognizing Honduras’ elections. As Christopher Sabatini and Daniel Altschuler recently argued, “acceptance of the elections results would [reveal] a troubling willingness to allow elected leaders to be removed as long as reasonably fair elections follow” and “would [signal] to would-be coup plotters in the region that election years offer opportune moments to overthrow democratically-elected presidents.” Brazilian President Lula concurred, stating “We can’t pretend nothing happened…If this state of affairs is allowed to remain, democracy will be at serious risk in Latin and Central America.” (See also  the critical commentaries by Laura Carlsen, Dana Frank, Sarah Stephens, Calvin Tucker, and Mark Weisbrot, among others). Still others see the elections as a viable solution to the months-old crisis including Honduras’ de facto leader Roberto Micheletti. (See also  the supportive commentaries by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Eric Farnsworth, Mary O’Grady, and Edward Schumacher-Matos).

My take: The claims by Christopher Sabatini, Daniel Altschuler and President Lula are probably overstated. While there are principled grounds for not recognizing the election, it is less obvious that doing so will place democracy in the region at serious risk. Although one could claim that the de facto government in effect “got away” with a coup, the reality is that Honduras has paid a heavy price for the illegal ouster of Zelaya. The strong and largely unified reaction of the international community will surely deter all but the most radical coup plotters from kidnapping their president and shipping them out of the country any time in the future. The uncomfortable reality is that the coup conspirators in Honduras–distressed by Zelaya’s actions and weary of his alliance with Hugo Chavez–calculated that it was worth the risk of becoming an international pariah to remove Zelaya. On the other hand, Sabatini and Altschuler are correct to warn of the type of negative precedent that is being set.

The election itself appears to have exhibited a turnout rate more or less consistent with past elections (though the exact numbers remain disputed and arguably under-scrutinized). Furthermore, the election appeared to be free and fair–at least as reported by mainstream media (there were, however, a few reports of voter intimidation in rural areas–mostly at the hands of Zelaya’s supporters). An irregular patchwork of not-so-impartial election observers were on hand to observe the election after the OAS and Carter Center, among other organizations, chose not to send observers.

The Ambiguous Stance of the United States

The United States has taken an ambiguous position which has placed it at odds with much of Latin America. In September, the United States threatened not to recognize the outcome of Honduras’ presidential elections unless a political settlement was first reached. Then, in late October, the United States helped to broker a power-sharing deal to end the crisis. Although Zelaya soon declared the accord “totally dead“, the United States startled many when it indicated that it would be willing to recognize the results of the upcoming election–with or without Zelaya–as long as the key elements of the accord itself were upheld and the elections were deemed to meet international standards. In recent statements, the U.S. indicated the elections were satisfactory but encouraged further steps be taken toward reconciliation (e.g., the accord calls for the establishment of a truth commission on Zelaya’s ouster)–see the comments by Asst. Sec. of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Arturo Valenzuela here. Zelaya, for his part, maintained that his quick restoration to power was a key element of the accord and lambasted the United States for its ambiguous posture. He indicated he would not accept the outcome of the elections nor return to the presidency after the election.

Congress Votes Against Zelaya’s Return – Zelaya in Limbo

As part of the U.S.-backed accord, the Honduran Congress, after a long delay, convened on Dec. 2nd and voted 111-14 not to reinstate the ousted president–in spite of substantial international pressure to do so. The vote followed a damaging ruling by the Supreme Court that said Zelaya cannot be legally returned to the presidency. The United States and European Union expressed disappointment with the Congressional vote.

The road ahead for Zelaya remains unknown. The Mexican Foreign Ministry indicated it would receive Zelaya but negotiations in Honduras broke down over the terms of his exile. After Zelaya refused to sign a letter dropping his demand to be reinstated, the de facto government withdrew its offer to grant the deposed president safe passage to Mexico, demanding that he leave Honduras only as a private citizen (i.e., not as president). In a laughable follow up, Micheletti subsequently explained that Zelaya would only be allowed exile oustide of Central America because he might “attack” Honduras from a neighboring country. Zelaya declared he will leave the Brazilian Embassy by January 27th–the end of his presidential term.

Will Latin America Recognize Lobo’s Election?

Regional heavywieghts Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela along with most others in the region (with the exceptions of Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Peru and Canada) have vowed not to recognize the election results. Indeed, one analyst predicted that, “The winner of the elections will remain an international pariah.” Still, in a recent New York Times article, analyst Shelley McConnell noted that the “pragmatic middle ground” may be to work with the O.A.S. to recognize the elections “under protest of how they came about.” It remains to be seen whether the rest of Latin America will follow the United States’ lead, whether a new compromise will be reached in Honduras or whether a deeper rift will develop. In a recent meeting, Brazil and the United States found common ground, requesting that Micheletti step down and Zelaya be granted free passage out of the country–though U.S.-Brazilian relations arguably remain desafinado (out of tune).

Postscript: Did the United States and the International Community Fail Honduras?

In a recent opinion piece, Andres Oppenheimer excoriated Brazil, the U.S., and the OAS for their mishandling of the Honduran crisis. Brazil, he noted, exhibited blatant hypocrisy by defending democracy in Honduras while extending recognition and legitimacy to the autocratic leaders of Cuba and Iran. The United States, for its part, flip-flopped  so much between condemnation and accommodation of the de facto government that the result was utter confusion (the New York Times  and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs similarly criticized the United States for “a disturbing lack of diplomatic skill” if not sheer “ineptitude“). Finally, the OAS was so one-sided in its support of Zelaya that it lost credibility as an honest broker in the crisis. In short, Brazil, the U.S., and the OAS “flunked the Honduras test.”