Sunday, November 29, 2009

Honduras Set For Presidential Polls

Sunday, November 29, 2009
04:51 Mecca time, 01:51 GMT

Honduras set for presidential polls

Honduran voters are set to cast their ballots to elect a new president five months after a military coup removed Manuel Zelaya from power, plunging the country into a political crisis.

The interim government said it will ensure security for the elections at all costs, saying that the new ballot will end the leadership stand-off.

Sunday's vote will pit polls favourite Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo, from the conservative National Party, against Elvin Santos of the Liberal Party and former vice-president under Zelaya.

But Zelaya, who is unable to vote and still inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa where he has been for the past 10 weeks, has been urging supporters to boycott the vote, saying that it will only legitimise the coup.

Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's Latin America editor, said that about one-third of the voting population are expected to stay away from the polls either to protest Zelaya's ouster or for fear of violence.

She said Hondurans wanted economic reconciliation with the world and are hoping that the international community will recognise Sunday's vote.

She also said the world and especially Latin America was deeply-divided on this issue, between those who say it is unfair to punish the Honduran people for the coup and those who say that recognition would be tantamount to whitewashing the coup and letting the coup members get away with it.

Tensions were high in Honduras as heavily-armed soldiers escorted elections materials to schools and other voting centres on Saturday.

International recognition

Some countries in the region have thrown their support behind Zelaya but the US and more recently Costa Rica have said that they will endorse the result of the elections.

The US State Department said Sunday's election was a critical step toward restoring democracy in Honduras.

The two leading candidates are also hopeful that the elections will be recognised internationally.

Lobo, a conservative candidate who has a clear lead over his closest rival in recent polls, said the elections were legal and constitutional even though they will follow a coup.

"Even though many countries have said no [that they will not recognise the elections], I have personally spoken to them and they have told me 'don't worry, we'll recognize them, just give us some time'," he said.

"This will normalise, because in a democracy, to not recognise an electoral process, would be a bit strange."

His rival Santos said the fate of Zelaya would be determined by the law after following the elections, saying that justice and the coup "will depend on the institutions and the law".

"I'm a candidate, I don't represent the state or the government, I'm a candidate who aspires to govern," he said on the eve of the election.

"I plan to do this as a pact to integrate civil society and define a future that we will build together."

Honduras has been shut out by foreign donors since the June 28 coup, and Brazil, the US and Europe initially pushed hard for Zelaya's reinstatement.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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