- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2009

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | The major question surrounding Sunday’s presidential election here is not so much which of the major candidates will win but whether a boycott of the polls by supporters of deposed President Manuel Zelaya will deprive the winner of legitimacy in the eyes of the world.

It may also determine whether Honduras’ 28-year-old democracy can get back on track.

The general consensus is that the winner will be Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, 61, of the opposition National Party, who narrowly lost to Mr. Zelaya of the Liberal Party in 2005.

The Liberal Party candidate, Elvin Santos, 46, had been Mr. Zelaya’s vice president, but he supported the combined civilian-military ouster of Mr. Zelaya on June 28, which precipitated an international crisis. Mr. Santos resigned as vice president last November to accept the Liberal nomination.

The interim president, Roberto Micheletti, also is a Liberal.

The outcome may not be a foregone conclusion. The most recent reliable survey was a CID-Gallup poll taken last month that showed Mr. Lobo leading Mr. Santos 37 percent to 21 percent, with three minor candidates taking 5 percent. But a significant 35 percent said they remained undecided, possibly a reflection of voters who plan to heed Mr. Zelaya’s call to boycott the election. The margin of error was 2.8 percentage points.

Both major candidates are U.S.-educated, Mr. Lobo at the University of Miami and Mr. Santos at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

Besides the president and vice president, voters will elect the 128-member National Assembly and about 2,700 municipal officials.

A grenade exploded late Friday inside the compound of Radio America here, causing minor damage but no casualties. Chris Mueller, the Canadian-born general manager, said the station had been urging people to vote, and he suggested pro-Zelaya elements were responsible.

“This is the sixth time we’ve been attacked,” he said. “They want the big media companies to make people think it’s scary to go vote. So we’ve downplayed our own attacks to avoid giving the people who attacked us what they want.”

He said Channel 10 TV was attacked last week and the radio network Emisoras Unidas the week before.

The government, meanwhile, took the pro-Zelaya television station Canal 36 off the air on Sept. 28.

The Liberal and National parties have dominated Honduran politics since the 19th century. Both are right-of-center and controlled by the country’s powerful oligarchy, which played a major role in ousting Mr. Zelaya, a populist who had moved the country sharply to the left and had allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Mr. Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy here since Sept. 21. Pro-Zelaya and anti-Micheletti graffiti is widespread in the capital.

The Liberal Party’s schism between pro- and anti-Zelaya factions is one factor in Mr. Lobo’s commanding lead; another is his promise to crack down on rampant gang violence that has given Honduras one of the world’s highest per-capita murder rates.

Mr. Zelaya and Mr. Micheletti reached an agreement on Oct. 30 by which Mr. Zelaya would resume the presidency until the inauguration of Sunday’s winner, but the deal fell apart, with each man blaming the other.

The Honduran Congress was to vote on whether to reinstate Mr. Zelaya, but the dilemma deepened Thursday when the Supreme Court ruled 14-1 that Mr. Zelaya should resolve the various criminal charges against him before returning to power.

Mr. Micheletti took a one-week leave of absence Wednesday and went into seclusion, calling it a “time of reflection” and saying he did not want to distract from the election. But he broke his silence Friday to urge Hondurans to vote.

The crisis has hemispheric impact. Several Latin American countries allied with Mr. Chavez have refused to recognize Mr. Micheletti’s government and say they will not recognize the results of the election unless Mr. Zelaya is first restored to power.

The Organization of American States, which expelled Honduras because of Mr. Zelaya’s overthrow, has not committed itself, despite a plea last week by Arturo Valenzuela, the new U.S. assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, to recognize the election results because the candidates had been chosen months before Mr. Zelaya’s ouster.

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