There is a measure of irony in the changes approved Wednesday night: Congress justified the removal of the leftist Zelaya in large part on his attempt to hold a referendum that might allow presidential re-election. The interim leaders held firm despite international sanctions and aid cutoffs.
But with new President Porfirio Lobo in place, Honduran officials seem less vehement about the issue. Lobo, like Zelaya, has denied wanting to change the law so he could seek re-election.
The current constitution flatly says there can be no amendment “in any way” on the prohibition against presidential re-election. It says trying that can be grounds for loss of citizenship.
The new measure modifies the law governing referendums to remove a reference to a ban on such “set-in-stone” constitutional clauses. It would have to be approved a second time after a new session of congress begins Jan. 25 to take effect.
Any changes to the constitution also would require a two-thirds majority in a referendum.
On Thursday, Lobo praised the measure, saying it “removed the chains that had kept the people silent.”
Asked how it differed from what Zelaya allegedly tried to do in 2009, Lobo said Zelaya “had wanted to stay (in power), but I repeat my pledge to the people that … I will not stay one day longer in office” after his term ends in January 2014.
The exiled Zelaya urged Hondurans to keep pushing for the country to hold a referendum on whether to allow presidential re-election.
“What two years ago was considered a crime, today is constitutional,” Zelaya said in a message broadcast by Radio Globo.
The measure could be challenged by the attorney general’s office or Supreme Court.
Melvin Duarte, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Thursday that the agency “will make a decision once the process concludes,” adding that “we still don’t know what we will do.”
The permanent ban on re-election was imposed as Honduras emerged from a military dictatorship, and it was meant to break the vicious cycle of leaders perpetuating themselves in power for years.
Many people worried the new changes could reopen that risk.
Vera Rubi, a leader of the opposition Liberal Party, said that Wednesday “will be remembered as a dark day in the history of Honduras.”
Congressman Toribio Aguilera of the small Innovation Party said the change would open the possibility of allowing re-election. “That will contribute to instability in the country.”
Honduras’ constitution limits the president to a single four-year term. Zelaya was ousted after he ignored court orders to cancel a planned referendum. Many suspected — but Zelaya denied — the object of the planned vote was to allow him to seek a second term.
Zelaya was never reinstated in office despite international pressure, and he has lived in exile in the Dominican Republic since his term ran out in January 2010 and Lobo took office. Lobo won a presidential election that had been scheduled before the June 2010 coup.
Liberal Party Congressman Erick Rodriguez, a Zelaya supporter, praised the bill.
“The changes to Article 5 reflect the aspirations of millions of Hondurans who want to have a say in the big decisions about the country,” Rodriguez said.
By: Freddy Cuevas, The Associated Press