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Checks and Balances & Uncertainty about the Preferences of the Public as Explanations for the Political Crisis in Honduras. Michelle M. Taylor-Robinson Joseph Ura. Multiple causes of a political crisis:. The military asserting its autonomy from civilians

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Checks and Balances & Uncertainty about the Preferences of the Public as Explanations for the Political Crisis in Honduras

Michelle M. Taylor-Robinson

Joseph Ura

multiple causes of a political crisis
Multiple causes of a political crisis:
  • The military asserting its autonomy from civilians
  • Weak democratic institutions (Congress, Court) starting to assert their power
  • Growing distance in preferences of branches of government
  • Lack of clear information about whether the public support Pres. Zelaya’s policy move to the left
did the military independently initiate the ouster of pres zelaya
Did the military independently initiate the ouster of Pres. Zelaya?

Evidence does not support this idea:

  • Court & Congress had already issued legal opinions opposing the Cuarto Urna  they were the first actors to oppose the president
  • When Pres. Zelaya fired the head of the military for refusing to implement the election, the Court reinstated him, declaring his removal illegal
  • What the military appears to have done on its own initiative was fly Zelaya out of the country instead of taking him into custody to stand trial
timeline of key events
Timeline of key events:
  • Jan 2006 – Zelaya takes office
  • Aug 2008 – Zelaya joins ALBA & Congress objects
  • Jan 2009 – conflict with business over wage increase (case taken to Court)
  • Jan 2009 – conflict with Court over naming of replacement Vice-President
  • Jan 2009 – conflict with Congress over appointment of new Supreme Court justices
timeline continued
Timeline continued:
  • Mar 2009 – Zelaya gives speech mentioning desire to extend his stay in power
  • Mar 2009 – Zelaya issues decree for Cuarto Urna
  • May/June 2009 – Court says referendum is illegal
  • June 2009 – ballots impounded by Court
  • June 2009 – Zelaya fires head of military
  • June 2009 – Zelaya supporters take back ballots
  • June 28 – Zelaya ousted & sent to Costa Rica
important legal constitutional points
Important Legal & Constitutional Points:
  • Sending Pres. Zelaya out of the country violated Art.102 of the Constitution
  • Constitutional amendment in 2003, as part of the package that removed immunity for elected officials, removed articles that made impeachment possible
  • New methods for selecting the Court (2001) & Congress (2005) changed incentives to demonstrate loyalty to the president
weak democratic institutions
Weak Democratic Institutions
  • Before 2008 the Congress & Court in Honduras had no precedent of checking the Executive
  • Any president could be expected to balk at attempts by other branches to check his power
  • Particularly the president of a country where there is no history of checks & balances
increasing distance between zelaya and congress court
Increasing distance between Zelaya and Congress/Court
  • For the first 2 years of his term Zelaya was ideologically close to his party (Liberals – PLH), though not at its ideological center
  • Mid-2008 he adopted policy stances that indicated he had moved:
  • To the left of traditional Honduran foreign policy
  • To the left of the National Party (by a large margin)
  • To the left of his own party
the president s leftward move made his policies no longer resemble
The President’s leftward move made his policies no longer resemble:
  • The median member of Congress
  • The median Supreme Court justice
  • The business community
  • Hondurans living in the U.S.
average ideological placement of parties politicians on a 0 10 scale 0 left 10 right
Average Ideological Placement of Parties & Politicians on a 0-10 Scale (0 = left, 10 = right)

* ideological placement by deputies in other parties

Source: Alcántara Sáez 2009 (Table 5 p.3), PELA surveys

but what about the public
But what about the public?
  • Traditional parties won 91% of seats in Congress in 2005
  • Zelaya won the 2005 election by a very slim margin & his 2005 opponent won the 2008 PNH primary by a landslide (73%)
  • Latinobarometer polls indicate Hondurans are more conservative than the Latin American average
  • AmericasBarometer poll:
  • early 2006 - 52.1% approved of Zelaya’s performance
  • Jan. 2008 - 47.5% approved
public s preferences
Public’s preferences?
  • What did the Executive, Legislative & Judicial actors in the inter-branch conflict know about the preferences of the public?


Existing inter-branch conflict PLUS uncertainty about the public set the scene for the current crisis

Inter-branch conflict starts with uncertainty about president’s support in the mass public
concluding comments
Concluding comments:

Is this a uniquely Honduran situation? NO

  • Inter-branch conflict where the legislature or court assert their power to check the executive could occur in other Latin American countries
  • If the attempt to assert the right to check the executive is successful democracy will be strengthened
  • If the president balks and ignores the constitutional powers of the other branches, democracy is weakened and crisis could result
what will happen in honduras
What will happen in Honduras?
  • The game predicts that once the branches enter a conflict with uncertainty about who has the support of the public, for each the best strategy is to not back down
  • That continues to describe the behavior of Zelaya and Micheletti, and apparently of the Supreme Court and Congress as well
  • International opinion has not been enough to sway either side to back down
  • Alcántara Sáez, Manuel. 2009. Un intento de explicación de la crisis de Honduras de 2009 desde la Mirada de sus legisladores. Boletín datos de opinin, Elites Parlamentarias Latinoamericanas. No. 11-09, August.
  • Central America and Caribbean Report of the Latin American Weekly Report (ISSN 1741-4458) March 2009.
  • Coleman, Kenneth M. and José René Argueta. 2008. Political Culture, Governance and Democracy in Honduras, 2008. LAPOP AmericasBarometer, Vanderbilt University, July.
  • Cuevas, Freddy. 2009. Juramentan Corte Supreme en Honduras. Miami Herald-Spanish Edition (on-line edition), January 26.
  • Gutiérrez, Norma C. 2009. Honduras: Constitutional law issues. Report for Congress, August 2009. Directorate of Legal Research LL file no. 2009-002965, The Law Library, U.S. Congress.
  • Knight, Jack and Lee Epstein. 1996. On the struggle for judicial supremacy. Law and Society Review 30 (1): 87-120. “Mel acepta que desea seguir en el poder” 2009. La Prensa March 14 (on-line edition)
  • Moore, Charity. 2008. Assessing Honduras’ CCT programme PRAF, Programa de Asignación Familiar: Expected and unexpected realities. Country study published by the International Poverty Center, United Nations Development Programme. Country Study #15, April.
  • O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1994. Delegative Democracy. Journal of Democracy 5 (1): 55-69.
  • Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M. 2009. Honduras: Una mezcla de cambios y continuidad. Revista de Ciencia Política 29 (2): 445-463.
  • Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M. 2010. Do the Poor Count? Democratic Institutions and Accountability in a Context of Poverty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.