President Manuel Zelaya announced late Monday that his government will hold a nationwide poll on the issue June 24. That poll would determine whether Honduras will hold a binding vote in November on drafting a new charter.
But the independent Honduran attorney general’s office said in a statement that Zelaya is not legally authorized to call the poll. And if he does so anyway, he could face charges.
“Neither the constitution nor electoral law allow the president to take a popular poll,” the statement said. “That is something only the Supreme Electoral Tribunal can do.”
Under Honduran law, Congress must call for a constitutional assembly to change the constitution. But Honduras’ current Congress opposes changing the document.
The attorney general’s office also warned that trying to change the constitution could “cause political, social and economic instability, and provoke a popular uprising in favor of defending constitutional order.”
Zelaya did not back down.
“If the attorney general’s office has a legal argument, then it should take that to the courts,” he said.
Zelaya has not given details about what changes a new constitution might include. Recent reforms promoted by other Latin American leaders have expanded presidential powers and eased bans on re-election.
Zelaya’s four-year term ends in early 2010 and current law requires him to step down. General elections are scheduled for November.
The president has forged increasingly close ties with Latin America’s leftist bloc, led by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Zelaya brought Honduras into a trade group founded by Chavez that includes Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.
Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa have all sponsored successful attempts to rewrite the constitutions of their countries.