One of the central findings from our (Elkins, Ginsburg, Melton) study of constitutional change over the last 200 years concerns the role of ambitious executives. Specifically, executives that are hemmed in by term limits or other constraints on their power often seek opportunities to replace or amend the constitution. We also find that such executives are often emboldened by such actions by their peers in neighboring or otherwise relevant countries.
Honduras, it appears, is on the verge of continuing in this tradition. Here’s an AP story from yesterday on the doings in Tegucigalpa.
Honduras contemplates constitutional changes
By FREDDY CUEVAS
Associated Press 2009-03-27 06:09 AM
The president of Honduras is moving ahead with plans for a nationwide poll on whether to change the constitution over the objections of the attorney general’s office, a top government official said Thursday.
President Manuel Zelaya says the 1982 constitution needs to be updated, and he wants the nation to vote on the issue in a public-opinion poll in June. If approved, a binding vote would be held in November.
But the attorney general office’s said Wednesday that the president has no authority to call for changing the charter. It also warned that if the vote is held, government officials could face charges and up to 10 years in jail.
Enrique Flores, the president’s legal adviser, said Thursday that the opinion poll is aimed at improving democracy.
“We aren’t afraid of going to jail for defending the people and our ideas,” he said. “And no one and nothing can stop this.”
Interior Minister Victor Meza also criticized the independent attorney general’s office.
“It is dangerous when state institutions succumb to politics, weakening the rule of law and corrupting institutions,” he said.
Under Honduran law, Congress must call for a constitutional assembly to change the constitution. But the current Congress opposes changing the document.
Zelaya has not said what changes he might propose in a new constitution. Recent reforms promoted by other Latin American leaders have expanded presidential powers and eased bans on re-election.
Zelaya’s four-year term ends in early 2010 and current law requires him to step down. General elections are scheduled for November.