November 28, 2008

How much is your vote worth?

Distributing ballots in the Honduras primariesDistribution of ballots
Photo: Hondublogs, La Prensa, Honduras

Here in La Ceiba, Honduras, the widely known going rate for a vote in the internal party elections (primaries) this coming Sunday is L.1,000 (US $53). Inflation has struck. The rate was L.500 during the last elections four years ago, though in some parts of the country L.500 will still buy a vote today.

Citizens who protest the corruption by staying at home on election day accomplish nothing. It doesn't even matter if your vote is sold or not, since the parties may steal your ID number and make your vote for you anyway. "Might as well get something out of it" is the usual sentiment.

Accusations also abound that the ID cards are sold by government officials directly to the political parties, effectively cutting out the middle man − the voter! Lower level employees are stuck with the odd bribe, disguised as an "expediting fee", knowing that the voter can still make a profit if he receives his card in time.

What if you vote your conscience and vote for one of the smaller political parties? That is meaningless, too, as deals have already been struck between the election workers of the various political parties. The small parties will "share" their votes among the large Nacionalista and Liberal parties, for a price, of course. I'm not sure of the logistics of this but we aren't talking about a general throwing of political support of behind another party, we are talking about actually using the ID numbers for replacement votes somehow.

If you are really a party man, you can vote early and vote often. Honduras has a manual voting system so it is a simple matter to travel around to every polling place within a reasonable distance and vote over and over again. It's hard to depend upon loyal party voters to do this, though, so virtually every bus and truck in the country has been rented by the political parties to transport voters to one or more polling places on Sunday. Some drivers are paid by the head that they deliver. In some poor areas only a tamale is required to buy the vote. "I'll give you more tamales when I am diputado," says the candidate.

And if all of this fails, the ballots or even the urns can just disappear on their way to the polls or on their way to be counted!

Why would most Hondurans go along with this? Probably not from a belief that their party will change the country, but rather from a belief that as a loyal party member, they themselves will benefit from the corruption, whether it is a car, a job, a contract, a cash payment, a telephone line, or even just a chicken dinner. Most everyone feels entitled to a piece of the corruption pie. And they are considered foolish by their compatriots if they don't take it.

How can Honduras ever become less corrupt if the main requirement, if not only requirement, to win an election is to be more corrupt than the other candidates? Current President Mel Zelaya even had the gumption to admit to the media that his election was a fraud but justified it by saying that all the elections have always been frauds.

I can't wait to read the reports of the international observers who will state that the elections were fair and honest. Twenty-five of them are coming in tomorrow so that should give them plenty of time to figure out Honduras democracy in action. Hah! Idiots.
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