Hondurans face referendum conundrum

The Honduran president warned that his country’s stability is at risk after the attorney general called for his ouster and the military chiefs resigned over an upcoming national referendum on constitutional reforms.

President Manuel Zelaya said he would seek a meeting of the Organization of American States to address the crisis in Honduras because “the rule of law is in danger.” He called his supporters to a rally at the presidential palace on Thursday.

“There is a crisis generated by some sectors who have promoted destabilization and chaos with the intent of causing serious problems for democracy in Honduras,” Zelaya said in a televised address at midnight on Wednesday.

Zelaya has scheduled the referendum for Sunday, ignoring objections from his own Liberal Party and a Supreme Court ruling declaring the vote illegal.

The nonbinding referendum asks voters if they want a further, binding election on whether to call an assembly to write a new constitution.

Zelaya, a leftist who sympathizes with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has argued that Honduras’ social problems are rooted in the 27-year-old constitution but has not specified what changes he would seek.

His critics accuse him of trying to extend his rule. Constitutional shakeups promoted by other Latin American leaders, including Chavez, have expanded presidential powers and eased term limits.

Zelaya’s four-year term ends in January, and current law bars him from seeking re-election.

The president said that he fired Gen. Romeo Vasquez, the head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that Defense Minister Edmundo Orellana had resigned.

Later, Vasquez said he could not support a referendum that the courts had declared illegal. He said the chiefs of the army, navy and air force all resigned in solidarity, but he dismissed the possibility of a coup.

“We are prudent and we accept the decision of the president, whom we respect and who has the right to dismiss whom he wants,” Vasquez said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ordered the military and the police not to support the vote. The nation’s attorney general and human rights ombudsman also have declared the vote unconstitutional.

Zelaya vowed to press on with the referendum.

“Those of us who really love Honduras cannot allow democracy to be for the few,” he said. “We must fight tirelessly, without giving in, to achieve the transformation of democracy.”

Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi urged Congress to oust Zelaya from the presidency. He also claimed the dismissal of Vasquez had no legal validity.

“The president had the chance to lead this country and he should be the most reasonable man,” Rubi told local television channel 5. “But he has reached such extremes, and that means he is on the fringe of the law, and that’s why Congress needs to dismiss Zelaya.”

It is unclear if there is any support in Congress for Zelaya’s ouster, but the legislature has made its opposition to the referendum clear. On Wednesday, the 128-seat unicameral chamber voted unanimously to ask a group of international election observers to leave, arguing their presence legitimized an illegal vote.

“We express to the secretary-general of the Organization of American States our profound indignation over the deployment of this mission to the country,” said Congressional President Roberto Micheletti, of Zelaya’s Liberal Party.

A constitutional modernisation referendum was held in the Cayman Islands on 20 May, 2009.

It received a majority of the vote and Caymanians are waiting for Gov. Stuart Jack to implement the new document.