December 12, 2017
This interview with Marco Ramiro Lobo, a non-voting member of the Honduran electoral authority (TSE by its Spanish acronym) was published on December 3rd by El Faro. In the days since, the TSE has conducted a partial review of actas in an attempt to satisfy concerns raised by international observers and the political opposition, and has agreed to recount the 5000 actas discussed in the interview. However, both the second and third-place finishers continue to reject the results provided by the TSE, which they say has lost all credibility. Both parties filed legal challenges to the results requesting a full vote-by-vote recount and the annulment of the elections, respectively. More than two weeks since the election, many questions remain about how things went so wrong.
He’s an alternate member but, after the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Spanish) of Honduras, he is the most visible of the tribunal’s four magistrates. He doesn’t have a vote, but he has a voice and he has made certain that he is heard. Marco Ramiro Lobo was appointed by the Honduran congress three years ago, and today he appears to be the magistrate most opposed to the decisions of the tribunal’s president, David Matamoros. He’s demanding an in-depth investigation of two system failures by the TSE’s vote-tallying technology. He admits that the TSE bears the primary responsibility for the political and social crisis gripping Honduras a week after its presidential election.
The tribunal consists of a magistrate, President David Matamoros, from the National Party, a representative from the Liberal Party, Erick Rodríguez, a member of the tiny Democratic Christian Party, Saúl Bonilla, and Lobo, a member of the small Party of Democratic Unification (UD). The Honduran congress refused to name a representative from the Free Party or the Party for Innovation and Unity (PINU), which make up the Opposition Alliance headed by Salvador Nasralla and Mel Zelaya, who are currently denouncing the reported results as fraudulent.
Without representatives on the tribunal, the opposition has relied on the resistance of magistrate Lobo to legitimate its concerns about the electoral process. But Lobo says there are clear differences of criteria among the members of the Tribunal: on one side Rodríguez and himself; on the other Matamoros and Bonilla.
After a week without official results, and violence breaking out in the streets, the TSE was scheduled to begin a special recount this Sunday [December 3rd], beginning with one thousand actas [tally sheets from voting stations signed by witnesses from political parties] sent to the TSE for special monitoring. Unfortunately, this recount will take place without observers from the Opposition Alliance, which has refused to endorse the process until the TSE commits to reviewing 5000 already processed actas with vote counts that have led to the suspicion that they were altered during the transmission process. Magistrate Lobo insists that these demands should be satisfied or else the final declaration of a winner will lack credibility.
How would you explain the current chaos?
Look, when the court met to outline its proceedings, we decided that we would give a preliminary announcement after tallying 750 actas and seeing a stable trend. But we didn’t end up doing this.
But the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), David Matamoros, said late on the 26th that there wasn’t a stable trend… What does the tribunal qualify as a stable trend?
It’s a proportional representation of each of the country’s regions. We already had a stable trend that night. The tendency of the results had grown in favor of Nasralla. The president of the tribunal didn’t want to give the announcement because his party was losing.
Tell me a little bit about that night and the discussion to convince Matamoros to announce the results.
Two magistrates, Erick Rodríguez and I, wanted to give the preliminary results. The other two magistrates said the results were too close. We already had 57 percent of the actas, and they indicated a stable trend in voting outcome. At one in the morning (on Monday, the 27th) the Organization of American States (OAS) mediated an agreement. Two people came from the OAS: Gerardo de Icaza and Gerardo Vásquez. A statement needed to be made. I think this is the origin of the conflict, because this ten hour period of silence created enormous doubts. And within the tribunal there have continued to be different visions.
So you and Rodríguez had opposing views to those of Matamoros and Escobar?
But you’re an alternate on the tribunal. You don’t have the right to vote. So it was two versus one.
I participate in all of the tribunal’s formal meetings, but I don’t vote. Up until now, we had never voted on anything.
The tribunal didn’t vote on anything? Who decided then, for example, which of the Opposition Alliances’ demands to agree to and which to dismiss?
During this entire process, we haven’t voted. Those issues have been managed by the [tribunal] presidency. I imagine he consults with the other two magistrates, but not with me.
Much of the general population is denouncing fraud surrounding the election. Is there fraud?
There are doubts. Many doubts. First, the tribunal’s silence. Second, the suspension of the vote count the day after the election. Then the first breakdown of the vote-counting system at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The system went down for five hours. After that the system came back up but the counting was intermittent until it broke down again Thursday morning. It came back online again five hours later. This raised doubts for many, including me.
And what reason was given for these system failures?
They told us that the system broke because the memory was too full, and when they tried to increase the system’s memory capacity, the system broke instead. I’m not a technical person who can determine what happened, but this created even more doubts because before the system went down Nasralla had an advantage with an already stable trend. When the system started running again, the voting trend reversed to favor Hernández and hasn’t changed since. We invested millions so that we could have a reliable voting system. They told us that if there were an emergency, there would be backup servers… They should verify the tribunal’s database and the logs. We have asked for an audit.
Do you think the system failures were an accident?
I’m not sure if it was an accident or was deliberate. But we need an investigation.
So there’s been fraud or the tribunal is highly incompetent. Is there a third option?
It’s a partisan tribunal that represents party interests. I think the biggest problem with the tribunal is that it takes partisan positions that clearly relate to its members’ political tendencies.
And what is your political preference?
I come from the Party of Democratic Unification (UD), a very small party. But look, partisanship should not control this process, because there were already clearly defined protocols. It wasn’t the protocols that failed, but rather the political will of the tribunal to follow its own protocols.
You’re saying that processing the data has been slow because of politicization?
The TSE was initially very successful at transmitting the results. By 7 p.m. the transmission from voting centers was already much more successful than we had expected. This wasn’t the problem, but rather, as I said, the tribunal’s silence despite that fact that we already had the information.
Salvador Nasralla has denounced irregularities in the transmission of the actas.
We are obliged to take into consideration any request from anyone with doubts [regarding the election process]. What’s important is that when we make a final announcement, we do so without any remaining concerns or doubts. We should resolve the issues raised in the complaints. They aren’t difficult to resolve.
Then why haven’t they been resolved?
We’ve begun meeting with the Opposition Alliance. In addition to their current requests, they’ve added a request for access to the database logs. We’re coming up with the best way to get them that information.
What about the demand to recount the five thousand actas transmitted from vote-tallying center at the National Institute for Professional Development (INFOP) that the Alliance suspects were altered?
I think they should check these 5000 actas.
Is there disagreement around this issue?
The tribunal has not met to make a formal decision.
How long would it take to carry out this partial recount?
We could probably check the 5000 actas in three or four days.
Have any of the magistrates received external pressure?
I can only speak for myself. No one has pressured me at all. I can’t speak for the other magistrates because we don’t discuss these matters.
Does the popular action in the streets of Honduras act as a form of pressure on the tribunal?
Yes. The later this goes, the tenser it becomes. There are Hondurans who have died for no reason. If we had done things properly…
But they haven’t been done properly.
Taking this all into account, if the TSE declares Juan Orlando Hernández to be the winner, many people won’t believe them.
It’s going to be difficult. Very difficult. At this point, any result will be complicated regardless of the explanations we give. Doubts are going to persist.