A justified coup?

I’m not sure any coup is ever justified (Fiji is an example of the problems you get when you set a precedent) but the situation in is fascinating.

The (former) President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was deposed from office yesterday when the Armed Forces seized him and threw him on a flight to Costa Rica.

Now normally one would condemn this absolutely. And indeed the UN, US, EU and other countries have all condemned it.

But maybe in this case the Armed Forces were not totally wrong. You see Zelaya has been acting unconstitutionally and it seems there was nolegal way to impeach him.

Zelaya has been elected to a four year term that ended at the end of 2009. The Constitution of Honduras makes it very clear you can not stand for a second term – ever. Article 239 says once you have been President you can never be President (or VP) again.

The constitution is so adamant about the one term limit, it says that if you promote a change to that clause, you lose your public office immediately and can not hold office again for ten years.

And Article 42 goes further and says anyone promoting the President staying in office beyond on term loses their Honduras citizenship. So I think we can conclude they don’t want their politicians to do what Chavez did in Venezuela and use his thugs to initimidate the population into changing the law to allow him to become President forever.

Now Zelaya was organising a non-binding referndum to start on the day he was deposed. The referendum was to on whether to call a National Assembly to rewrite the constitution.

Now the referendum has been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court and oppossed by Congress, the attorney general, and the top electoral body. Despite this President Zelaya asked the military to conduct the referendum. The General in charge refused as the referendum had been declared illegal and unconstitutional. The President then sacked the General. The Supreme Court reinstated him.

Zelaya then led a citizen march to take possession of the referendum materials. Some stage after that the military deposed him from office. The Supreme Court has come out and said they ordered the army to do so, and the Congress (which is controlled) by Zelaya’s own party unamiously voted to remove him from office (even though they do not have this power).

Now it is possible the Army’s action will prove detrimental in the long term. Already they have imposed censorship, and mishandled some diplomats. But from all accounts Zelaya all but forced them to act – and they may have stopped him from doing a Chavez.

The lession for nation states might be to always have clear impeachment procedures in your constitution.

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