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The first military coup d'état in Latin America in 16 years should be reversed, and the constitutional order in Honduras should be restored, although some of President José Manuel Zelaya's own actions may have verged on being unconstitutional themselves.

Clearly, it is incompatible with constitutional government for a country's armed forces to seize the head of state at night, and then deliver him to a neighbouring countries still wearing his pyjamas, even with an order from the supreme court and a subsequent ratification by the legislature.

Arguably, Mr. Zelaya's proposed referendum on removing presidential term limits violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitution of Honduras. It gave the appearance of an attempt to evade, or trump, the established procedures for constitutional amendments - following precedents from Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, not to mention two Bonaparte emperors of France.

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The constitutions of Latin American republics essentially follow the model of the United States. The separation of legislative and executive powers requires something such as impeachment to provide for extreme circumstances. By contrast, a prime minister in a parliamentary system can be removed quite cleanly and effectively, or else forced into an election, by a loss of parliamentary support.

For some reason, the impeachment clause in the Honduran Constitution was removed in 2003. There was a vice-president, but he resigned in December, 2008, to run in the presidential election of December, 2009 - in which Mr. Zelaya decided he wanted to run, too.

No constitution can provide clearly for every eventuality. If anything, the Honduran Constitution may be too detailed, giving the military some needless encouragement by specifying that the armed forces should defend "alternation" in the presidency.

All this points to a persisting fragility of democratic institutions in Central America. Fortunately, all other Latin American governments, ranging from conservative Colombia to communist Cuba, have condemned the coup.

There is reason to hope that Honduras will emerge better from this episode than Madagascar, where a March coup has been allowed to stand and is no longer getting much attention outside Africa.

Mr. Zelaya should be allowed to return and resume office. If he unconstitutionally tries to run again for president later this year, his candidacy can be invalidated at that time. The judiciary, the military and the parliament all got ahead of themselves.

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