TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The Supreme Court on Thursday voided an article in the constitution limiting presidents to a single term — the issue at the heart of the political conflict that led to the ouster of socialist President Manuel Zelaya six years ago when he sought to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution.
The push by the governing National Party to make the change, which would permit President Juan Orlando Hernandez to seek a second term, has drawn widespread criticism from the opposition, which notes the same politicians behind it were involved in the 2009 coup against Zelaya.
Forces that united to remove Zelaya from office, including some members of his own party, contended he wanted to end the ban on second terms so he could remain in power.
The Supreme Court initially voted 5-0 to strike down the prohibition on presidential re-election, but judge Elmer Lizardo, a member of the opposition Liberal Party, reversed his vote later in the day.
"The resolution makes clear that no law may restrict the rights of Hondurans," a spokesman for the court, Melvin Duarte, said at a news conference.
He said that once published in the Official Gazette in the coming hours, the ruling would take effect and annul the constitution's Article 239, which says anyone who has served as president cannot hold the post again or serve as vice president.
The ruling came in a petition filed in December by 17 legislators arguing that the prohibition was constitutional. Former President Rafael Leonardo Callejas, who held the post in 1990-94, joined the appeal last month, saying the ban violated human rights.
After the court ruled, Callejas announced that he is looking to run for the presidency again.
Opposition members decried the change,
"The ruling opens the way to a dictatorship that would permit Hernandez to stay in power" indefinitely, said Salvador Nasralla, an unsuccessful presidential candidate for the Anti-Corruption Party in the 2013 national elections.