Our task is just to observe, listen
Members of the European Parliament's delegation at the general elections in Honduras after a meeting with candidates of the opposition Liberal Party in Tegucigalpa, on November 24, 2017. (Photo: Gustavo Amador/EFE)
Tegucigalpa, Nov 25 (efe-epa).- Our task is just to "observe and listen." The head of the European Parliament's delegation at the tenth general elections in Honduras describes the role of the European Union's Election Observation Mission as one of careful scrutiny without any political interference.
The EU EOM Honduras 2017 covers the political campaign, pre-election preparations, election day polling as well as the counting and tabulation of results.
"We and other observers will serve to lend credibility," Portugal's José Inácio Faria of the European People's Party (EPP) explained to EFE.
Along with Faria, Members of European Parliament (MEP) from Spain, Lola Sanchez (Podemos or We Can party), Ramon Jauregui (Socialists), and Carlos Iturgaiz and Veronica Lope (People's Party), arrived in Honduras just days before the elections.
Part of the EU mission
The European Parliament (EP) group was a part of a mission consisting of around a hundred observers deployed in Honduras by the EU and led by Portuguese MEP Marisa Matias, of the European United Left group.
The last to join the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) Honduras were the 40 observers called "at short notice," who arrived on November 21, went through a training course and on November 24 and left Tegucigalpa for different departments of the country to cover as many polling stations as possible.
"We will be present at the opening of the polling booths, closely following the voting operations, at the closing of the polls and the counting of votes," Matias said in a statement.
The elections, in which there are an unprecedented 10 political parties and nine candidates for the president's post, have been marked by intensely political activity.
The Hondurans will elect a new president, three vice presidents, 128 members of the country's parliament and 20 members to the Central American Parliament, as well as decide the composition of 298 municipalities.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party seeks to get re-elected, a move rejected by the opposition, considering it a violation of a Constitution that does not provide for additional presidential terms. However, a court verdict in 2015 has allowed this eventuality.
The MEPs arrived in the Central American nation with a population of nearly nine million, of which 6.1 million are eligible to vote, amid complete electoral silence, after the conclusion of the election campaign of the 10 political parties.
The observers, they explained to the press when asked for opinions, too are guided by the maxim of silence throughout the electoral process. They will only speak publicly when presenting their preliminary conclusions on November 28.
After their arrival, the MEPs met with officials of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), international organizations and with presidential candidates.
Faria underlined that there is an international code of conduct in the EP to assess elections in other nations.
"The European Parliament is here, so is the European Union, we are here as observers. Period. We will observe and later make a report," he said, adding "we will say what we have seen."
He also said that the mission was going to follow the suggestions they had been given "so that there is total confidence in our observation."
Matias and the other MEPs also met the leadership of the Liberal Party, the second-largest opposition group in Honduras, and its presidential candidate, Luis Zelaya, who conveyed their concerns over certain problematic issues that could occur on the day of the elections, according to Faria.
"Everyone gave suggestions (...) that is normal in a democratic process," he said.
The EP delegation also met with leaders of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, led by a third presidential candidate, Salvador Nasralla.
Most observed elections
According to the TSE, Sunday's elections in Honduras will be the most observed one in the young democracy, which dates back to 1980, when a national constituent assembly convened elections in 1981, after nearly 20 years of military rule.
In order to agree on the final parameters ahead of the field missions, the EP delegation discussed several matters with TSE president David Matamoros and three vice presidents of the institution, Saul Andrade, Erick Rodriguez and Marco Lobo, especially concerning the process of data transmission and the timing for the results of the presidential elections.
Faria also met with the head of the observation mission of the Organization of American States, former Bolivian President Jorge Quiroga.
The MEPs can verify whether during these elections Honduras incorporates the recommendations made by the observers after the 2013 general elections, in which Juan Orlando Hernandez emerged the winner.
"It would be convenient to see that the country accepts the recommendations made by international organizations so that it becomes more friendly regarding matters such as environment and respect for human rights.," said Faria.
The EU, he emphasized, "is a big investor in Honduras, just like in other Latin American countries, and we want to continue to be so. For that we verify that ideal conditions are given."
"A world watches us"
"Once again, the Honduran electoral process presents characteristics sui generis: the electoral norm remains practically unaltered since they were issued in 2004 (13 years ago), even though the political context has changed substantially since then," underlined Miguel A. Cálix in a three-part article "Un mundo nos vigila" (A world watches us) in El Heraldo newspaper.
On the positive side, it enumerates measures to promote equal participation of women, and regulations on financing of parties.
On the other hand, there lies "a questionable method of scrutiny and a weak institutional system."
"To add to that, several rules of the game have been modified without political agreement (at least visible ones): from those that allowed the controversial presidential re-election to the ones that eliminated the requirements of voting threshold or modified the way of marking the vote in the ballot paper," he added.
"To put it in few words: the EU-EOM faces new aspects to observe, in an environment strained by accusations of fraud, prior rejection of the results regardless of outcome, own voting surveys, and even to the extent of questioning the role of the observation team and its officials," concluded the columnist.
By Raquel Sánchez
Translated by Shubhomoy Chatterjee
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