Monday, June 29, 2009

A coup in Honduras?

BBC reports that the Honduran military have arrested the country's President. While no-one has announced anything, a coup may be underway.

There is some interesting background to this: the Honduran constitution specifies a one-term limit on the Presidency, which the incumbent, Manuel Zelaya, wants to repeal. He's been pushing for a referendum on the matter to coincide with this year's presidential election, and was planning to hold a pre-referendum on the issue this weekend. The sticking point: changes to the term limit are themselves banned by the constitution. As a result, the Attorney-General, Congress (dominated by Zelaya's own party) and most importantly the Supreme Court have all declared the poll illegal. The military, who apparently help to run elections in Honduras, have consequently refused to do so. Zelaya has responded by sacking the head of the armed forces and leading his own supporters to a military base to seize the ballots and ballot boxes so they can run the referendum themselves.

So, at first glance the military's actions seem to be aimed at enforcing the rule of law against a President who is flagrantly violating an order from the Supreme Court. Except that that is not the role of the military in a democratic state - it's the role of the police. By doing things this way they are undermining the very constitutional order they seem to be trying to protect (and a constitutional order which looked to be protecting itself anyway - the Honduran Congress had already begun moving towards impeachment).

Reports about what is going on are still confused - according to the Guardian Zelaya has been put on a plane to Venezuela - but one thing is clear: this is not the way to "defend" democracy. Instead, the Honduran military have undermined it.