TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran lawmakers will wait until after a November 29 election to decide whether to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya, delaying a vote central to a U.S.-led deal to end months of political crisis.
Zelaya, who irked the poor nation’s elite by forming close ties with leftist Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, was sent into exile in his pajamas by soldiers on June 28 and a de facto government led by Roberto Micheletti took charge.
The U.S.-brokered pact to end the crisis stipulates a congressional vote on reinstating Zelaya, but it never set a date and the October accord collapsed within a week as the rival sides failed to form a unity government.
“We’ve decided to convene sessions for December 2,” Congress head Jose Saavedra told reporters, adding that lawmakers expected the Supreme Court to give an opinion next week on whether Zelaya should be returned to power until a new president is sworn in January after the November 29 election.
Zelaya, who has been living at the Brazilian embassy since sneaking back into the coffee- and textile-producing country in September, initially welcomed the pact, which he said was meant to reinstate him.
But he said last week he would refuse to return to the presidency as part of any negotiated deal, saying to do so would legitimize the coup and the presidential election, which he is urging his supporters to boycott.
With less than two weeks left before the election, Congress has been dragging its feet on debating Zelaya’s return.
Many lawmakers are running for re-election and political analysts say they are hesitant to air their opinion on an issue that has split the nation.
“It’s absolutely not in their best interests to vote before the election because none of them want to be punished one way or the other on Zelaya’s restitution,” said Honduras-based political consultant Patrick Ahern.
However, the delay could leave a door open to negotiators to continue looking for a way to end the deadlock. A “No” vote before the election might have increased international rejection of the result of the presidential election.
South American leaders have called for Zelaya’s immediate reinstatement but Washington seemed to weaken his position by saying it would recognize the presidential election simply on the basis of the signing of the accord.
De facto leader Micheletti praised the decision by Congress to set a date to vote on Zelaya’s fate and said it showed all state institutions were “working together to solve the current political situation.”
He urged Zelaya to maintain “prudent silence” in the run-up to the national election.
Zelaya, a logging magnate who hiked the minimum wage and cut school fees, was accused by critics of trying to illegally change the constitution to allow for presidential re-election, something he denies.
After the coup, Honduras was cut off diplomatically and the United States, the European Union and lenders suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Eric Beech