Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Electing a Supreme Court, Badly.

The Honduran Congress is responsible for electing a new Supreme Court every 7 years under the Honduran Constitution.  Yesterday the National and Liberal parties tried to carry on as they have for the last 34 years, nominating a suite of 8 National Party members, and 7 Liberal Party members.  Mauricio Oliva, the president of Congress and a National Party member, then forced the procedure of voting on the entire slate, rather than approving each justice individually.  He was certain he had the votes because of the alliance between the crumbling Liberal Party and the ruling National Party.  He needed 86 votes.  He got 82 (or 84 depending on which Honduran newspaper you read).  Congress failed to appoint a new Supreme Court.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg of corruption around the election of this Supreme Court in Honduras. Lets turn to the candidates themselves.  Last October,  American Bar Association joined the Centro por la Justica y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), the Fundacion para el Debido Proceso (DPLF), and Impunity Watch to form an international oversight committee reviewing the election of justices in Honduras.  They met with the nominating committee and held workshops for them on international standards and best practices for selecting justices.  It mostly seems to have been in vain.

The master slate of some 200 candidates was formed by the Nominating committee in a procedure that privileged some institutions, such as the business community, labor unions, and civil society, with making their own nominations.  Others candidates self-nominated.  The list of 200 candidates filled out questionaires, underwent drug testing, answered questions about affiliation or participation in drug trafficking with a polygraph.  Each candidate received a numerical score, and all of this information was supposedly used to winnow the list down to the 45 "best" candidates, if by "best" you include 12 who failed the polygraph test, and some whose legal qualifications are suspect.  During the process, the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa twice submitted lists of candidates that it said required more investigation or that should be eliminated outright, supposedly based on an FBI evaluation of candidates. 

In the end, the Nominating committee submitted a list of 45 candidates to the Honduran Congress, including candidates that failed the polygraph portion of the test, and those that had numeric scores less than 50%.  These are the ones the Nominating Committee said were the "best" candidates, but they refused to make public the selection criteria. 

On January 21, the Human Rights Center of the ABA issued a 9 page report on the work of the Nominating committee, saying that it failed to meet international standards for transparency and follow the best practices for the selection of justices.  So much for those workshops in October.  The ABA said the Nominating committee had made an effort, but had not gone far enough to investigate the candidates, and that the whole process lacked transparency.  They pointed out that the "election" of the Nominating committee itself was problematic.  They made a long list of suggested improvements to the process. 

Once Congress had the list, Mauricio Oliva appointed a review committee of 10 Congress people to review the nominations and recommend a slate of candidates.  The committee was composed of members of the 5 political parties which have Congresspeople, with a majority of the positions going to the National and Liberal parties and the supporting Christian Democrats.  All committee members were selected by Oliva, not their parties.

Monday started badly for transparency when Congress blocked most of the press corp in Honduras from entering to cover the election of the Supreme Court. Blocked press included Padre Melo of Radio Progreso.

The vote failed because Oliva did nothing to court the opposition party members into supporting the slate of hand picked candidates.  He did get 9 votes from opposition party members, but clearly expected more.  After the vote, Salvador Nasralla said that only 5 of the 15 candidates were qualified in his opinion.  PAC, Libre, and PINU have together called for an open, public vote for the Supreme Court candidates, but Mauricio Oliva has instead imposed a secret vote, using paper ballots rather than the electronic voting system in Congress.  Its far easier to manipulate the results of paper ballots, as both the Liberal and National parties have done in the general elections for the last 34 years.

Congress meets again at 4 pm to reportedly reconsider electing the same slate of 15 candidates again, only this time with a secret vote instead of a public one, using paper ballots instead of the electronic voting system installed in Congress.

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