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Central America’s democratic hopes in the balance

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FORMER HONDURAN president Manuel Zelaya styles himself a man of the people. So it must be hard for him to absorb the fact that his people do not actually want him — or his wife, Xiomara — to run their country again. That is what Honduras’s national elections on Sunday proved: Ms. Zelaya, running as a stalking horse for Mr. Zelaya, who is constitutionally prohibited from another term, lost by about five points to conservative Juan Orlando Hernández, who got 34 percent in a multi-candidate field.

The Zelayas cried fraud, despite a unanimous verdict to the contrary from international and Honduran election observers, and called their supporters into the streets. The State Department has appealed for calm; if a potentially violent confrontation is to be avoided, and democracy consolidated, the Zelayas’ erstwhile backers in the region, Brazil especially, need to help rein in the losers.

Beset by some of the worst poverty and crime in the Western Hemisphere, Honduran voters had many reasons to reject the Zelayas — starting with the ongoing disaster in the country the couple held up as a model, Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. And then there is Mr. Zelaya’s record: As president four years ago, he attempted to stage an illegal referendum so as to gain a second term, which provoked his equally illegal ouster by the military. Honduras had to spend a lot of precious time reinstituting democracy and regaining full membership in the Organization of American States when what it really needed was an all-out national effort against rampant crime and corruption.

The current incumbent, Porfirio Lobo, failed to make sufficient progress on those issues and Mr. Hernández belongs to Mr. Lobo’s party; the fact that he won anyway, on a law-and-order platform, demonstrates again how thoroughly Hondurans have repudiated Mr. Zelaya. If nothing else, Mr. Hernández won’t change presidential term limits, so at least Hondurans have some assurance they’re not ushering in a would-be dictator.

Not so next door in Nicaragua, where Sandinista President Daniel Ortega is pushing constitutional amendments that would end what’s left of that impoverished democracy’s checks and balances. Chief among them is the abolition of presidential term limits, which would enable Mr. Ortega, 68, to seek reelection every five years starting in 2016. Other troubling provisions permit active-duty personnel in the Sandinista-dominated military to hold office and the establishment of “family councils” akin to the old Sandinista Defense Committees that exercised block-level political control during the 1980s.

Mr. Ortega’s minions call this a “political model inspired by the values of Christianity, the ideals of socialism, and the practices of solidarity,” which is strange, since the country’s leading Christian institution, the Catholic bishops’ conference, has denounced the plan for “encouraging the establishment and the continuation of an absolute long-term power exercised by a person or by a party, in a dynastic manner or through political and economic oligarchy.” But with a Sandinista supermajority in the National Assembly ready to rubber-stamp it, this dire threat to democracy in Latin America may be unstoppable.

Read more on this topic: The Post’s View: Venezuela’s Maduro resorts to state-sponsored looting The Post’s View: Venezuela, on the path to implosion, expels diplomats The Post’s View: The reckoning after Venezuela’s election

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