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Honduras holds new election

Is the fresh election a military farce or restoration of democracy?

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Tegucigalpa, Nov. 29, 2009. Honduras chooses a new president on Sunday but neither ousted President Manuel Zelaya nor arch-rival and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti are running in the election, which could give a new president the chance to take Honduras beyond the political gridlock that has divided the Central American nation and cut off international aid. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The squad of young soldiers surrounded the school to be used as a voting booth in this sweaty Central American capital and hauled sandbags to build a military post at its front gate.

The de facto government says such security, which is part of a huge deployment of troops across Honduras, will make people feel safe and confident to vote in Sunday’s national elections — the first to be held since President Manuel Zelaya was forced out in a military coup in June.

The ballot for a new president, congress and mayors, the military government hopes, will show the world that Honduras has restored democracy and can be brought back into the international community.

But Zelaya and his supporters argue the need for such a military operation underlines how the nation is in no condition to hold a fair franchise. Because the coup leaders have muzzled the press, ordered troops to shoot at protesters and imprisoned dissidents, there can be no fair race, he says.

“This is the first time in history that the executioners are being allowed to oversee a so-called transition back to democracy,” Zelaya told GlobalPost by phone from inside the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been holed up since he snuck back into the country in September.

“There can be no valid election when the regime has terrorized the Honduran people,” he said.
Zelaya has called on the nation to boycott the ballot and has urged the international community not to recognize its results.

But support for the Stetson-wearing populist — who pledged to fight for Honduras’ poor and downtrodden before he was forced into exile at gunpoint — is looking increasingly thin.
He is particularly dismayed about the Obama administration saying it will recognize the vote, after it had previously condemned the coup.

“The United States had a good position and then it weakened, it lost its way,” he said.

Following the U.S. position, many other countries have swung round to support the vote. Among the most notable new advocates is Costa Rican leader Oscar Arias who oversaw peace talks to try and restore Zelaya to the presidency. After those apparently failed, he announced Friday that he was supporting the election, saying isolation would only punish an already poor Honduras.

“Why do we want to make Honduras into the Burma of Central America? Why do we want a second Hurricane Mitch?” he asked CNN.