On 28 June 2009, a coup d'état took place in Honduras when the army seized President Manuel Zelaya and put him on a flight to Costa Rica. President Zelaya had expressed his intention to call, on that same day, a consultation asking whether the citizens wished to vote to establish a Constituent Assembly that would prepare a new Constitution. Should that be the case, the vote for a Constituent Assembly would take place on the occasion of the presidential elections, scheduled for 29 November 2009. Mr. Zelaya's four-year term was due to end in January 2010, and he was constitutionally barred from running in the 2009 elections.
The Supreme Court and the Electoral Tribunal had ruled that the consultation (referendum) aiming to change the Constitution was unconstitutional. The Chief of the armed forces had subsequently refused to obey the order of the President to distribute ballot boxes for the “public consultation”. The President then dismissed him.
Later that day (28 June), the Congress voted to remove the President for “repeated violations of the Constitution and the law”. The Supreme Court also announced it had authorized the removal of the President to protect law and order. Speaker of Congress Roberto Micheletti became acting President. The Electoral Tribunal announced that presidential elections would take place on 29 November 2009 as scheduled. Mr. Micheletti will continue in an acting capacity until 27 January 2010, when the newly elected President will take office.
The Organization of American States (OAS) condemned the military coup and demanded Mr. Zelaya's immediate reinstatement, a position which was echoed by the international community, including the IPU. On 4 July, the OAS suspended Honduras' membership. Costa Rican President and Nobel peace prize laureate Oscar Arias hosted three rounds of talks from 9 July between the representatives of ousted President Zelaya and acting President Micheletti but the parties have so far failed to reach an agreement.
After an unsuccessful constitutional referendum in August 2008 (see issue no. 32, December 2008), on 26 November 2008 President Valdis Zatlers called on the parliamentary Law Committee to prepare amendments to the Constitution, which would allow citizens to propose the dissolution of parliament. On 8 April 2009, parliament passed those amendments. According to the new provisions, one tenth of voters in the most recent elections can initiate a referendum on the dissolution of parliament. Parliament can be dissolved if a majority of voters approve the referendum and turnout surpasses two thirds of the number of voters at the previous parliamentary elections. Early elections will then be called no sooner than one month and no later than two months after such dissolution. The amendments will take effect after the next elections, due to be held by October 2010. The constitutional provision whereby voters may not recall any individual member of parliament remains unchanged.
On 14 March 2009, following a protracted political crisis, Mr. Andry Rajoelina, the mayor of the capital Antananarivo, declared himself President, effectively ousting the incumbent President Marc Ravalomanana (see issue no. 34, July 2009). On 9 August, the leaders of the four main political groups, including Mr. Rajoelina, Mr. Ravalomanana, and former presidents Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy, signed the Maputo Political Accord, establishing transitional arrangements for a period not exceeding 15 months, during which presidential and parliamentary elections as well as a referendum on a new constitution will be held. The Accord provides for an interim constitution, the Transitional Charter, which came into effect on 9 August. All transitional institutions are to be established within 30 days. These would include a President and Vice President, a national unity government comprising a Prime Minister, three deputy prime ministers and 28 ministers and a bicameral legislative body: the Higher Transitional Council (the upper house, comprising 65 members) and the Transitional Congress (lower house, composed of 258 members). The members of the Congress will be appointed by presidential decree. The mode of designation of members of the Council will be decided following further negotiations.
On 25 May 2009, the Constitutional Court ruled that it would be illegal for President Mamadou Tandja to hold a constitutional referendum on the lifting of the two-term presidential limit. He has been serving his second five-year term, which is due to end in December 2009. The following day, the President issued a decree dissolving the National Assembly without giving any reason for his move. New parliamentary elections were constitutionally due between 45 and 90 days after the dissolution. On 2 June he signed a decree setting up a committee in charge of drafting a new constitution. On 3 July, he issued a decree calling a constitutional referendum for 4 August. Although the Electoral Commission had set early parliamentary elections for 20 August, they were postponed due to the referendum.
On 4 August 2009, 68.26 per cent of the 6 million registered voters turned out for the referendum. The new Constitution was approved by 92.5 per cent. It provides for a new bicameral parliament comprising a National Assembly and a Senate. Two thirds of the senators will be indirectly elected while the remainder will be appointed by the President of the Republic. All senators, who must be over 45 years old, will serve a five-year term. The new Constitution does not provide the timeline for installing the Senate. Under the new Constitution, the elections to the National Assembly, whose composition does not change, are due before October 2009. Until such time, the President of the Republic will exercise legislative power through presidential decrees. Thereafter, until the establishment of the Senate, the National Assembly will exercise legislative power.
The new Constitution lifted the limit on presidential terms. Although the presidential term remained at five years, the mandate of the incumbent President has been extended until the next presidential elections, which will now be held in December 2012. On 14 August 2009, the Constitutional Court validated the referendum results.
On 24 March 2009, the House of Representatives approved a law to increase the percentage of women in the candidate lists for elections at all levels. For parliamentary elections, party lists must comprise candidates of both sexes in at least the first 15 places. This rule applies to both titular and substitute members. In the electoral districts used for the House of Representatives, where only two seats are being contested, the titular candidates must include one man and one woman. The government promulgated the law on 13 April. This law will apply as of the parliamentary elections to be held in 2014.