TEGUCIGALPA – The governing Liberal Party on Saturday urged Hondurans not to participate in a controversial non-binding referendum organized by President Manuel Zelaya that the Supreme Court has deemed illegal and which could be a first step in overhauling the constitution.
A spokesman for the Liberal Party, Marlon Lara, told a local radio station that “behind all that is a desire (by Zelaya) for continuance” in power.
“We’re always going to oppose any ambition of continuance in office, any personal whim of the president,” said Lara, who is heading his party’s campaign efforts ahead of the Nov. 29 general election.
Earlier in the day, the political opposition to Zelaya called on voters to stay away from the Sunday vote.
A spokesman for the Democratic Civic Union, which comprises business leaders, opposition politicians, churches and other sectors, said the plebiscite being promoted by Zelaya “is a farce” and urged Hondurans “not to be part of something illegal.”
Meanwhile, a message Friday from Education Minister Marlon Breve calling on Hondurans to appear at one of 15,000 voting stations nationwide and cast a ballot in the non-binding referendum was re-broadcast on national radio and television stations on Saturday.
On Sunday, Hondurans will be asked whether the ballots for the general election should include a measure regarding the formation of a constituent assembly beginning in 2010, or after Zelaya’s term in office has expired.
Zelaya has led the push for the vote, which, because it does not obligate the state to act is essentially a public opinion poll. He says voters should be able to vote for a constituent assembly because the current charter favors the wealthy elite in a country where the vast majority live in poverty.
But he faces resistance from the nation’s courts, Congress and the military.
Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio also issued a new call Saturday urging Hondurans not to participate in “the illegal popular referendum” and recommended that people “stay at home.”
The political crisis began after Zelaya said he would fire armed forces commander Gen. Romeo Vasquez for refusing to provide security for the poll. Vasquez said he could not back the vote because the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that it was illegal.
In an expression of solidarity with Vasquez, the heads of Honduras’ army, navy and air force resigned their post.
The Supreme Court responded to the president’s announcement by ordering Vasquez’s reinstatement, although Zelaya said Friday that he remains in his position because no replacement has yet been named.
Zelaya, who has received strong backing from other leftist leaders in the region, led a caravan of his supporters to air force headquarters on Thursday to collect the ballots for the non-binding referendum, preventing them from being destroyed in compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
His defiance led to fears of a potential military coup, especially after hundreds of troops were deployed to strategic points in the Honduran capital early Thursday in what their commanders said was a move to avert potential disturbances by Zelaya supporters.
The military ruled Honduras for most of the period from 1963, when it overthrew democratically elected leader Ramon Villeda Morales, until 1982.
Zelaya’s initiative has been rejected by the Attorney General’s Office, the nation’s highest electoral tribunal, the Supreme Court, as well as the private sector, the Catholic Church, opposition parties and other groups that deem it illegal.
They say the vote is a thinly veiled attempt by Zelaya – constitutionally barred from seeking re-election – to perpetuate himself in power.
The non-binding vote, according to Zelaya, is justified by a “law of citizen participation” that he signed in January 2006, when he first took office and by a petition he says was signed by some 400,000 registered voters.