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Honduran election campaigns clouded by crisis

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A bitter four-month dispute over who is president has left many Hondurans too jaded with politics to care about voting for their next leader.

Porfirio Lobo, presidential candidate of Honduras' National Party, arrives to attend the opening of the commission of the Organization of American States (OAS) to oversee the fulfilment of the accords between Honduran de facto government and a representative of the mission of the ousted president Manuel Zelaya, at a hotel in Tegucigalpa November 3, 2009.REUTERS/Henry Romero

A June coup that toppled President Manuel Zelaya and cut Honduras off from international aid has dampened interest in the November 29 presidential election, which some countries say they won’t recognise unless Zelaya is restored first.

As a U.S.-brokered deal to resolve Central America’s worst political crisis in two decades crumbled on Friday after de facto leader Roberto Micheletti formed a “national unity” cabinet without Zelaya, already low-profile presidential campaigns slipped further out of sight.

With only three weeks left until the vote, streets that would normally be lined with campaign posters were dominated by post-coup graffiti -- some encouraging an election boycott.

And in what would typically be the height of the flesh-pressing campaign season, the election frontrunner, Porfirio Lobo of the opposition National Party, held small, poorly attended rallies.

His closest challenger, Elvin Santos of the incumbent Liberal Party, has shelved plans for public events until mid-November due to the malaise, his campaign team said.

“The politicians caused this political crisis so I have no interest in voting for them,” said Claudia Mencia, 40, glaring disapprovingly from her door at a small street rally for Lobo.

The United States had hoped a deal between Zelaya and Micheletti would smooth the road to elections. But Zelaya has called for a vote boycott, stoking fears an election with Micheletti in office will lack legitimacy.


Lobo, a 61-year-old rancher, has risen to a double-digit lead in polls on the political crisis many blame on the Liberal Party, to which both Zelaya and Micheletti belong.

“Ex-President Zelaya did a lot of talking in the sense of belittling the elections, and that has caused this lack of enthusiasm,” said political analyst Juan Ramon Martinez.

Only 54 percent of Hondurans believe elections held with Micheletti in office will be legitimate, according to an October poll by U.S.-based researcher Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

An October CID Gallup poll showed Lobo, known as “Pepe,” held a 16-point lead on Santos, 46, who was vice president under Zelaya.

Analysts see just over half of eligible voters turning out to vote, a similar level as in the last presidential election.

Zelaya was ousted by the army on a Supreme Court order and flown into exile after angering Honduran elites by cozying up to leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The day of the coup, Zelaya planned to hold a referendum to gauge support for changing the constitution. Some feared he was seeking to allow presidential re-election, a charge he denies.

The leftist logging baron has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy in the capital since sneaking back into the country in September.

The crisis appeared near resolution last week after Zelaya and Micheletti signed an accord designed to allow Congress to decide whether or not to reinstate Zelaya.

But 80 percent of 128 lawmakers are running for re-election, according to Honduran newspaper El Heraldo, and Zelaya is a toxic political commodity despite high approval ratings.

Congressional leaders have yet to call a session to vote on reinstatement and appear reluctant to do so.

The 55 members of Congress from Lobos’ conservative National Party are in a particular bind. If they vote alongside a handful of pro-Zelaya Liberals to return Zelaya, they would assure international recognition of the election. But the same vote could alienate voters from Lobo.

“If Pepe supports (Zelaya’s) restitution, I’m pulling out, I’ll stop supporting him,” said Nelson Villanueva, 44, an accountant who voted for Zelaya four years ago but stopped backing the leftist once he got close to Chavez.

Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Vicki Allen