Thursday, May 8, 2014

Constitutional Branch Defends Itself

The Constitutional Branch of the Honduran Supreme Court attempted to defend its actions in declaring a winner in the municipal elections of San Luis, Comayagua a week ago. The notice they released makes it clear they're responding to pressure on social media.  Their defense is akin to stamping their foot and saying "because I said so".

The court reaffirmed its belief in the rule of law, and stated that its decision in this case was well founded in the constitution and laws of Honduras.  It also reaffirmed its right to hear the case, claiming dominion over the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE).  It further wished to point out to the public that it was Santos Zelaya Chacón who sought to appeal the TSE's decision claiming his due process rights had been violated.  So its not the Supreme Court's fault that they had to hear this case, its Santos Zelaya Chacón's according to their logic.  The court argued that tossing a coin does not strip one of one's rights to appeal the election, except that it does in the TSE rules to which all candidates agree when running for office.

The court went on to allege that the Municipality of San Luis was notified not to allow anyone to assume office, that the case had been admitted, but that the Municipality ignored the court.  Finally, the court says its decision was firmly based in law and the constitution, without providing any backing for that claim.  They have not released a written judgement and this decision may never be published.  They simply assert they did the right thing. 

This branch of the court, packed by Congress with supporters of the neoliberal policies advocated by Juan Orlando Hernandez, you will recall, voted to install the National Party candidate, Santos Ivan Zelaya Chacón as Mayor of San Luis despite the Tribunal Supremo Electoral ruling that the election was a tie.  Tie runoff procedures in Honduras call for both candidates to agree to settle the tie by the toss of a coin.  Both candidates agreed, a coin was tossed, and Lenny Hernandez, the Liberal Party candidate won.  The Tribunal Supremo Electoral awarded him a certificate of election, and on January 27, 2014 he assumed office.

The TSE is supposed to be the ultimate election authority, but of course, that is no longer the case in post-coup Honduras. The hierarchy now goes Congress -> Supreme Court -> Tribunal Supremo Electoral.

In the meantime, Santos Ivan Zelaya Chacón decided to appeal to the Supreme Court claiming his due process rights had been violated.  The Constitutional Branch of the court took the case, and issued a 5-0 decision agreeing with him, and awarding him the election.

Since then, the Liberal Party filed a challenge appealing the decision; their appeal was apparently rejected by the Supreme Court with the statement that they have no standing.  The Constitutional Branch ruling is threatening the pact between the National and Liberal Parties in Congress.  The TSE then voted to affirm the Constitutional Branch ruling, and the very next day, the building housing the Mayor's office burned down in Sal Luis.  The same week a Liberal Party leader in San Luis was murdered.

Edmundo Orellana, admittedly a partisan of the Liberal party, wrote yesterday that:
Everything that has happened is the fault of the Constitutional Branch; none of these things would have happened in this municipality if they hadn't stuck their noses where they shouldn't.  This is a political problem and the Supreme Court is not authorized by the Constitution for this.  The magistrates have violated the Constitution of the Republic and thereby are exposed the consequences of this violation.

We happen to agree with Orellana, that the court took an ill considered and  unreasoned political decision, not a legal one.  We do not choose to question the court's assertion that Zelaya Chacón's due process rights were violated, but rather question why they themselves trample on the due process rights of the opposing candidate and the voters by appointing Zelaya Chacón as Mayor, unilaterally, and without any offered justification, other than that the TSE denied him his due process rights. The TSE's alleged error in denying Zelaya Chacón his due process rights does not merit the court ignoring the rights of the voters, and the rights of the opposition candidate, Lenny Flores.

Congress in the meantime is working on a compromise solution in which there would be a new election.  Yes, for once the Honduran Congress is making sense.  Both the legitimately aggrieved Liberal Party and even the voters of San Luis itself have called for a special election to determine the outcome, but Zelaya Chacón says he will not recognize the outcome of any such special election, arguing that only he had his rights trampled on by the TSE.

Cooler heads have prevailed.  The threat of the Liberal Party to break its alliance with the National Party over this issue worked, after they meet with the leaders of the Anti-Corruption Party and Libre to present a unified front in Congeress calling for a new election, which the National Party rejected.  The compromise solution arrived at, preserving so far the fragile Liberal-National Party coalition, has been for both candidates to irrevocably resign from candidacy to the office.  This probably will force a new election for Mayor in San Luis, Comayagua, but the Tribunal Supremo Electoral isn't saying that, as yet, preferring to wait for the paperwork and "study" the issue.

The only way Hondurans found to preserve anyones rights after the Supreme Court acted was to preserve no ones rights.  Lenny Flores and Santos Zelaya are now out of it, but the political parties will probably get a chance to propose new candidates for Mayor, and the people of San Luis might finally get a chanced for representation that they voted for, instead of representation imposed on them by a fully politicized Supreme Court.

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