Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Honduran military steps in to enforce presidential term limit

Like his mentor Hugo Chavez, (former?) Honduran President Manuel Zelaya needed to get around his country's constitutional term limit to hold on and extend his power over this Latin American country.

While the president has no power under Honduran law to hold a referendum to make consitutional changes, the president announced he would do so anyway. When the nation's army chief Gen. Romeo Vasquez refused to distribute the ballots for the illegal election, he was fired. When the Honduran Supreme Court mandated the reinstatement of Vazquez, Zelaya refused.

The army put down Zelaya's attempted coup with a coup of its own.

"Zelaya has provoked this institutional crisis," said Michael Shifter, a Latin American analyst at Washington's Inter-American Dialogue. "He seems to have a very strong appetite for power. He's trying to be the victim, but he won't get a lot of sympathy by defying the country's institutions."

In the United States, we view term limits as a good government reform that empowers citizens relative to public officials. To view term limits so casually is a luxury of our stable democracy.
In many other parts of the world, term limits are one of the last safeguards against tyranny.

If the action by the military is in good faith, it will soon step aside and permit the elected rotation in office that the Honduran constitution requires and the people deserve. The interim leader, Roberto Micheletti, says that presidential elections will be held as scheduled and that he will step down in January when Zelaya's term would normally expire. We'll see. One of the temptations of power that make term limits so crucial is that politicians always believe that they are indispensible. This hubris comes with the job.

In Colombia, president Alvaro Uribe is next in line to try to overturn his presidential term limits, although like American politicians he is relying solely on legal machinations to hold on to his power. Stay tuned, as the Latin American term limits saga continues.