The Honduran Congress passed a new law on Tuesday, after an unusual late-night legislative session. The measure, called the Ley Especial que Regula el Referéndum y el Plebiscito, establishes specific restrictions on the power of the executive to call for national referendums by prohibiting plebiscites and referendums 180 days before or after a national election.
Prior to Tuesday’s development, President Zelaya had scheduled a vote for June 28 on whether to convene a constituent assembly to re-write the Honduran Constitution. Plans for the referendum provoked widespread criticism throughout Honduras, and were declared illegal by the Supreme Court, the Attorney General and the Human Rights Ombudsman, but President Zelaya vowed to press forward with the vote.
Zelaya has argued that social problems in Honduras are rooted in its current constitution. But opponents are worried that constitutional changes in other Latin American countries have eased re-election restrictions, expanded presidential powers and extended term limits. Opponents also argue the president is trying to pave the way for his own re-election. Zelaya’s four-year term ends in early 2010 and current law requires him to step down.