Assistant Professor of Political Science Antonio Ugues Jr. joined the St. Mary’s faculty this year. He specializes in democracy, democratization, and issues related to electoral integrity, with an emphasis on Latin American politics. He has been invited to be an electoral observer for the Honduran elections that take place on November 24th.
What does an electoral observer do?
Electoral observers oversee the electoral process from an impartial and objective manner. We ensure that the process is going according to plan and that anything that goes wrong, like illegal activities, is brought to light.
Why are you going to Honduras in particular?
The Organization of American States (OAS) invited me to be part of an observatory team because Honduras is having both presidential and legislative elections this year. In 2012, I oversaw elections in El Salvador and Guatemala, so I have some experience with the electoral observation process by now. My research focuses on Mexico and Central America, and it will be interesting to do a little informal research and get a sense of the Honduran political climate while I’m there.
Are electoral observers important?
Electoral observation by outside parties is sometimes controversial, but I see electoral observation as an important process. Electoral observers provide some technical assistance to help out with elections, which are complex, costly, and overall, huge logistical nightmares. It is crucial to have some type of oversight independent from the government or any other political influence. Electoral observers can provide this oversight in an impartial, objective manner.
Are electoral observers important for other countries besides the one undergoing the electoral process?
International observers of elections can indicate approval of elections, which is a positive sign of democratic development. Political leaders and scholars in other countries can use electoral observers’ oversight to see what is going on in the country politically. This is where controversy comes up: are observers giving a fair assessment of the country’s electoral process? It is important for the world that they do so.
Does this election have any particular significance?
Yes, but explaining this significance requires a little bit of Honduran history. Honduras has had elections since the 1980s, but these elections have not always been free and fair. Early elections were restricted to parties approved by the ruling military, but when Honduran military influence declined, elections became more democratic. There was positive development until 2009, when a military coup d’état deposed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. The 2013 Honduran elections are the first general elections since this event.
How do you feel about your opportunity to be an election judge?
I’m very excited; this will be an interesting opportunity personally and professionally. I’m teaching a course on Latin American politics in the spring, so this is a great first-hand experience and teaching experience. It’s something different and exciting to share with students.
You just joined the St. Mary’s faculty this year. How do you like St. Mary’s so far?
St. Mary’s has a great reputation for academics as well as encouraging unique relationships between faculty and students. I really enjoy these positive interactions. There is such a sense of community orientation that I’ve felt in the few months I’ve been here. And, of course, I’m proud to be teaching at a public institution since I attended public institutions of higher education throughout my academic career.