Honduras elects conservative rancher as new president

By all accounts, the national election in Honduras was a rousing success.  Despite a call to boycott by the small band of remaining supporters of Manuel Zelaya, turnout exceeded 60%.  It produced a clear winner, conservative rancher Porfirio Lobo Sosa, sweeping out the liberal government of both Zelaya and interim caretaker president Roberto Micheletti.  Honduras expects the international community to honor its results, but as the Wall Street Journal reports, that may depend on Barack Obama:

A conservative rancher named Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo took the Honduran presidency in elections Sunday, five months after the country’s last elected president was forced out of the country at gunpoint. Now Hondurans must wait to see if the international community, which has been divided over the crisis, accepts the winner as legitimate.

The results gave Mr. Lobo 56% of the vote, well ahead of Liberal Party candidate Elvin Santos at 38%, confirming voters’ expected punishment of the Liberals — party of both the deposed president and the interim government that ousted him.

While the small Central American nation is expected to get crucial support from the U.S., it will likely continue to face opposition from regional heavyweights such as Brazil and Argentina. The U.S., in agreeing to accept the winner, is now in a delicate position — with Brazil, for example, which is housing exiled leader Manuel Zelaya in its Honduran embassy and recognizes him as president.

The US only agreed to accept the results of the election after pressure from within Congress over Obama’s policy towards Honduras.  Senator Jim DeMint had stopped Obama appointees from getting confirmation votes in protest over Obama’s decision to sanction Honduras for the so-called “coup,” even after the Law Library of Congress confirmed the legality of Zelaya’s removal from office (although not his subsequent forced exile).   At first, Obama and his State Department objected to holding the elections at all while Zelaya remained locked out of his offices, but eventually — and reluctantly — accepted the use of democracy to resolve the status of government.

The big question remains whether the US will honor that commitment now that Lobo, an opponent of Zelaya and his party, has won such a clear mandate from Hondurans.  The WSJ assumes that the White House will honor it, and that others will follow suit:

Only the U.S., Costa Rica and Panama have said they will accept the winner, though other countries, including Mexico and Canada, appear to be leaning that way as well. The government is betting that U.S. recognition will lead other nations to back down from earlier positions. “They may not recognize the elections Sunday itself, but I believe they will at some point in the future,” Mr. Lobo said Saturday.

But Brazil, which currently hosts Zelaya in its Tegulcigapa embassy, may lead an effort to disregard the elections:

Honduras’ disputed presidential election is likely to set Washington against emerging Latin American power Brazil over whether to recognize the winner of a vote promoted by the leaders of a June coup.

Conservative opposition leader Porfirio Lobo easily won the election on Sunday, but he will struggle to get recognition in Latin America where many leftist governments see the election as a nail in the coffin of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. …

The State Department called the vote “a necessary and important step forward” after results came in on Sunday but did not say whether Washington would explicitly recognize Lobo’s victory over ruling party candidate Elvin Santos.

Brazil, which is increasingly flexing its muscles as its economy becomes more powerful, refuses to recognize the vote.

“Brazil will maintain its position because it’s not possible to accept a coup,” President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday.

And so we come to the ultimate irony of the entire sordid mess that Obama himself largely created.  Obama refused to accept the legality of Zelaya’s removal because Obama considered it an affront to democracy, even though Zelaya violated the Honduran constitution and the Honduran parliament and Supreme Court followed the law in having him removed from office.  Thanks to that self-defeating and intellectually vapid policy, Obama has undermined actual democracy in Honduras by giving Brazil, Venezuela, and Nicaragua an opening to ignore the results of a regularly scheduled and honest election and to force Honduras to put a lawbreaker back into office against the will of its people.

If Obama had deliberately strategized a way to undermine democracy in Latin America, he could not have done any better than this.