National Party Prevails in 2009 Elections
Though tensions were high in anticipation of the November 29 elections, the actual day was remarkably quiet. Even on the mainland, only small scale protests were recorded. On the Bay Islands overwhelming sentiment was that the process operated like a well oiled machine.
Although international sentiment was mixed, the United States decided earlier in November to accept the results as democratically sound. Many countries stated they would not accept the results offered by any winning party, regardless of political attribution. According to journalistic reports the day after the elections, Peru, Panama, Colombia and Costa Rica voiced support. Other nations including Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil refused to recognize the vote on grounds that it was held under an illegitimate government.
Issues on the table focused on security, tourism, unemployment, education, health, and women’s programs. Campaigning involved plenty of walking through neighborhoods rallying for support from common citizens. Presidential candidate Proforio “Pepe” Lobo visited the island for the National Party rally on November 15, drumming up support.
Despite rampant accusations last election of candidates buying votes from locals, this year’s election appeared practically spotless. Commenting before the election, Roatan business owner Shawn Hyde said, “It’s a clean election up until now. There’s no slander, no mud being thrown. I’m holding my breath that this keeps up, but right now it looks like a model campaign and I’m honored to be a part of it.”
The 2009 elections were drastically different from those in 2005, in which were reported mudslinging, buying votes, registration discrepancies, and missing ballot boxes. In 2005, rumors circulated about voters being brought from the mainland into the Bay Islands, but no proof had been legitimized regarding those claims at the time of writing. On the national level, Zelaya told several reporters that he would contest the results. Telling news outlet Al Jazeera; “We took a sample at the polls and the rate of abstentions was over 60 percent in most cases. This means the election had low turnout, which means it did not enjoy the support of the majority of the Honduran people.”
According to reported figures from the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), the Bay Islands Voice calculated voter turnout in the Bay Islands at 43.5%.
This year’s coup in late June seems to have had some benefits in regards to electoral methodology, with a strong emphasis on transparency and the workings of a legitimate political process.
A large component of the 2009 elections was the increased presence of international observers. Last elections, held in 2005, saw 123 international observers. This time around there were 398, more than a 300% increase. Aside from Calabash Bight, where the main road was washed out from torrential rains, 57 observers were working on the Bay Islands in every polling station on Roatan, Saint Helene, and Utila; Guanaja had only Honduran national observers. The election also utilized 3500 national observers, which was a significant increase than in 2005.
The TSE took extra measures this year to anticipate some of the problems of the past and create contingencies in order to prevent much of the disorder and accusatory outcry experienced in Honduras’ last election. Each voting station received individual boxes containing all materials, lists, tutorial flyers, ink, gloves, rules and regulations, even flashlights and batteries were dispensed in case of a power outage.
Citizens arrived to their designated voting locations and were admitted one by one to the voting tables. While the number of voting stations remained the same, tables increased from 89 to 97 in order to help the flow of voter traffic. Security was tight. The only possible means of voting was to display one’s Roatan identification card, and the ID had to match the color rendition on the precinct registration list. If not, the voter was turned away.
Another step toward transparency and electoral confidence was new steps in redundancy within the voting process itself. The secretary and president of each respective station signed off on every single ballot before it was cast. After voters filled their ballots in a private area, they are returned and officially stamped. The voter then signed the register book and placed their vote in the designated boxes labeled for each seat. Their fingers were then finally inked to prove that they voted. All station officials were educated on previous years’ ploys to repel ink, as a measure to ensure that citizens could not vote more than once.
“This time is very different from the last election,” said Maritza Bustillo. “Last time you could come and go without anyone watching. You could vote for whomever, however.’ ‘This time there was more security, more organization.'”
Counting procedures were also amongst momentous change regarding transparency during this year’s elections. All counting began at individual voting stations. All station presidents were given cell phones on which to call Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, after the polling locations conferred on a conclusive vote count. Only then were the ballot boxes allowed outside of the polling centers. All boxes were transported by municipal and national guards to the central counting location in Coxen Hole, where more officials then recounted the ballots in order to prepare the final reports to Tegucigalpa.
The new procedures were received favorably. Mitch Cummins, leader of the observers group under Friends of Honduras, an organization created months ago in Washington, DC, said, “One of the most common comments from the observers was that this electoral process was extremely transparent. It would be very difficult to cheat in the polling place.” The collective was the largest single group at about 20% of the total number of international observers.
According to observer Pam Casey, “If we had one third of the checks and balances in the States that I have seen here today, we wouldn’t have half the problems we do…The rest of the world could take a lesson from Honduras.”
West End islander and National Party volunteer Jimmy said, “This is the year of Honduras. We saved our country and now we get to show the world democracy.”
Of the five established parties and two independents, Bay Islanders voted for president, deputy to represent the Bay Islands to the central government, and four mayors to the departments of Roatan, Utila, Guanaja and Santos Guardiola. The National Party swept in Roatan, Santos Guardiola, and Guanaja, leaving Utila in Liberal Party hands.
Perry Bodden, re-elected mayor of Jose Santos Guardiola remarked, “There are many undone projects that I wanted to finish.” On the docket for the east end of Roatan are a new city hall, police station, wells, and road infrastructure. Since the shrimp market prices have fallen drastically the past few years, Bodden plans to focus on tourism as a source of supplemental income. Such programs would involve a technical school of tourism, sustainable development of the area’s natural attractions such as caves, waterfalls, and national forest, as well as a possible proposal of another cruise ship dock in Santos Guardiola. “I don’t want to make the same mistake as in West End. I want to build and not destroy (the environment).”
Alton Cooper, elected for his third term as mayor of Utila, is the only Liberal Party candidate elected in the Bay Islands. Cooper has experience working with both parties, and considers himself a “representative of the people, whether they be Liberal or National,” he said after the elections.’ ‘There was a lot of National Party support here (Utila) and we are honored to have Pepe.” Cooper has been working on several projects for Utila which he plans to finish over his next term. Including opening the new stadium, completing a new day care center and kindergarten, and following through with getting university classes on the island through Universidad Metropolitana. Furthermore, Cooper proposes a program integrating sports and education, initiating work on the main dock, and introducing wind generators as an alternative power source.
Richmond Hurlston, also re-elected for a second term as mayor on Guanaja, said this election was the “cleanest and most transparent elections Honduras has seen. This time we could really see people not electing candidates just because of their party. They were really considering the person. This shows that democracy in our country is changing.” Hurlston also plans to work on infrastructure such as transportation, environment, and sanitation to attract tourism and investors in order to create job. Two projects Hurlston also plans to finish during his upcoming term will be the airport terminal and the highway from the east end of Guanaja to its airport. Hurlston will also place importance on making the public schools bilingual, improving health clinics, adding 24-hour emergency service, and building recreational parks so kids can focus on sports rather than being tempted by drugs.
Julio Galindo has been serving on the city council having lost the last mayoral election to Dale Jackson in 2005. He served as mayor years before. He stated in an interview with the Bay Islands Voice that “Our Island’s biggest problem right now is social issues.” With 65-70% unemployment, security, education, and health are top priorities. In addition, he is working on a master development plan, which he describes as “very sustainable,” in order to create the right environment for foreign investment. “The government will not provide the jobs, foreign investment will,” stated Galindo. To create this environment Galindo must emphasize infrastructure, expanding roads to prepare for higher traffic, building a road from Oak Ridge to Camp Bay, improving sewer systems, educating workers, and promoting Roatan as a destination. Security measures are a considerable question as well. After his victory, Bay Islands Voice asked Galindo what was the first order of business. Julio replied, “Order!” [/private]