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CNN analysis: Majority of eligible Hondurans voted in presidential election

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
Porfirio Lobo Sosa's decisive victory in Sunday's vote doesn't, in and of itself, assure international legitimacy.
Porfirio Lobo Sosa's decisive victory in Sunday's vote doesn't, in and of itself, assure international legitimacy.
  • CNN analysis: 56.6 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in Honduras
  • Porfirio Lobo Sosa handily won Sunday's vote, but legitimacy is being scrutinized
  • Ousted president Jose Manuel Zelaya had called for a voter boycott
  • Sunday's voter participation was higher than in 2005, when Zelaya was elected

(CNN) -- While the Honduran government has not released final turnout percentages for last Sunday's pivotal presidential election, a CNN analysis based on official figures shows that a majority of eligible voters cast ballots in the race.

The exact number -- 56.6 percent -- matters because the turnout may reflect how much trust the Hondurans placed into an election that took place under less than perfect circumstances.

Conservative businessman Porfirio Lobo Sosa handily won Sunday's vote, but because the election happened before a resolution to the political crisis involving his predecessors, his legitimacy is being scrutinized.

Some countries, such as the United States, Colombia and Costa Rica, have said they will recognize Lobo. Others, such as Argentina, Brazil and Spain, have said they will not.

A key piece of electoral data that can help other countries figure out what to make of the Honduran election is the voter turnout.

A large turnout can be interpreted as evidence that the people of Honduras saw the election as a way out of the crisis. A small turnout could mean that deposed President Jose Manuel Zelaya's call for a boycott of the election was heeded, and that divisions still run deep in the Central American country.

So it is not surprising that in the days after the election, there are discrepancies in the reported voter turnout figures.

The country's independent electoral body, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, gave a preliminary turnout figure of 61 percent earlier this week.

An independent group of observers estimated that the turnout number was 48 percent.

"Because of a lack of serious election observation, it's difficult to know exactly what the exact numbers are," Daniel Altschuler, an independent political analyst in Honduras told CNN.

However, a CNN calculation based on official figures provided by Supreme Electoral Tribunal spokesman Roberto Reyes Pineda shows that the actual voter turnout is 56.6 percent.

This marks a higher voter participation than 2005, when Zelaya was elected, but it is not the massive turnout that Micheletti's supporters have claimed.

CNN's figure is based on the 2,609,754 total votes cast in the election and the 4,611,000 total registered voters. Both figures were released to CNN by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Like many other turning points in the Honduran political crisis, a 56.6 percent turnout does not provide a clear boon for one side or another.

Since the 1997 presidential election, the trend in Honduras has been one of decreasing turnouts. From 72 percent participation in 1997, it fell to 55 percent in 2005.

The turnout is important because it is a sign of "to what extent the electorate is thinking that this election is the right way out of this crisis," Dartmouth College professor of government John Carey told CNN.

Since Zelaya was ousted in a military-backed coup on June 28, attempts at resolving the ensuing political crisis have been met with resistance.

"If accurate, [56.6 percent] is a remarkable figure because it goes against the trend," Carey said. CNN's figure for the turnout backs Micheletti's assertions that more people voted than four years ago, but hardly in the numbers that his supporters have circulated. Some pro-Micheletti media have reported participation rates as high as 80 percent.

On the other hand, the fact that the turnout was not massive gives some credence to Zelaya's claims that people heeded his calls for a boycott.

"If it were lower than the previous election, that would show that a lot of people stayed away from the polls, which suggests that the coup that unseated Manuel Zelaya had an effect on voter turnout," Altschuler said.

Brazil, one of the countries that has so far rejected the legitimacy of the Honduran election, has indicated that the turnout could shift its view.

The [turnout] element is essential, because it will indicate the legitimacy of the election.
--Marco Aurelio Garcia, aide to Brazil's president, as quoted in a Honduran newspaper

"If Brazil considers that it must change position, it will change position." Marco Aurelio Garcia, an international affairs aide to the Brazilian president told the Honduran newspaper La Prensa. "The [turnout] element is essential, because it will indicate the legitimacy of the election," he told the paper.

Besides the political reasons for each side to over- or understate the turnout, there are statistical and accounting reasons behind the varying figures.

Rolando Bu of Hagamos Democracia, the consortium of NGOs that observed the election, said their turnout estimate of 48 percent was based on a sample of quick counts of more than 1,100 polling stations after the election.

The initial turnout of 61 percent reported by the electoral tribunal was based on their projection of 2.8 million total votes, according to a tribunal news release. The figures that the tribunal gave CNN show that only 2.6 million votes were cast.

The electoral tribunal has reported even higher numbers because they strip some names from the voter rolls.

Reyes, the spokesman for the electoral body, said that some 1.2 million Hondurans were living in other countries and were not able to vote in the election.

Because they could not possibly vote, the tribunal has suggested that they should be excluded from tabulations. With this accounting maneuver, the participation rate comes out at 76.8 percent.

CNN's calculation used the entire voter roll because that is the way that the electoral tribunal tabulated turnouts in previous elections.

What these numbers mean for Honduras' future remains uncertain.

"One thing that we lack is a magic number," Carey said.