Honduras Elections: Serious Challenges Ahead

Honduras coat of arms / public domain

Honduras coat of arms / public domain

Honduras faces an enormous challenge in the next two months:  ensuring that elections in November – when Hondurans go to the polls to elect their next president, 128 National Assembly deputies, and municipal authorities – are clean and transparent.  The elections are especially important because they are the first conducted outside the framework of the coup of 2009.  The elections that year, held five months after the coup, were conducted under the black cloud of the break in constitutional order and gave rise to the transition government headed by President Porfirio Lobo.  This year, nine parties are participating – a clear signal that the country’s traditional two-party system is ending.  The Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), with a base among supporters of ousted President Mel Zelaya, has nominated his wife, Xiomara Castro, as its Presidential candidate, and the Anticorruption Party, led by sports journalist Salvador Nasrala, represent a true challenge to the traditional political elite.

All of the polls give the edge to Xiomara Castro, with a lead ranging anywhere from two to eight percentage points, over the candidate of the National Party, Juan Orlando Hernández, who is President of the Congress.  The polls also show that a majority of the population, having witnessed multiple accusations of fraud during the primaries held by the two traditional parties (including Hernández’s), expect the elections to be marred by fraud.  Casting further doubt on the credibility of the outcome is the narrow representation of the parties and lack of professionalism of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which is charged with organizing and supervising the elections.  Only the three traditional parties have representatives serving on the TSE and, unlike in other countries, they are distinguished as militants of their parties rather than independents or experts in electoral processes.

Should the results of the election not be seen as legitimate, the potential for conflict is worrisome, and there are ample grounds for concern that the security forces that have proliferated under the Lobo government could be deployed to suppress protest.  Only strong international pressure and strong citizen pressure can guarantee that the elections will be clean and open the possibility for Honduras to overcome the political crisis that has now been damaging the country for several years. 

A number of events – including the firing of Supreme Court justices last December and the National Congress’s intervention in matters far outside its jurisdiction – underscore the continuing tendency toward authoritarian and illegal actions to suit ambitious politicians’ pursuit of power, with potentially dire consequences for the elections. An ongoing economic crisis, including a nearly 50 percent unemployment rate, and a serious deterioration of government finances, also contributes to political fragility. Against this backdrop, the United States and the rest of the international community can play a positive role in promoting elections that are fair and impartial and taking proactive measures to ensure that security forces ill-suited to managing social unrest not be deployed to suppress political dissent.  Failing to do so would waste an opportunity to help effect a truly democratic outcome in Honduras, and invite a further deterioration of a political, economic and social climate that is the most worrisome in Central America.

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1 Comment

  1. Katariina Brooke Cramberg

     /  September 22, 2013

    Reblogged this on Introduction to Comparative Politics, Fall 2013 and commented:
    I’ve been thinking a lot about Honduras lately after watching the movie, “Sin Nombre,” meaning without a name. It tells the story of violent gangs and the story of a family from Honduras emigrating to the Unites States by train, risking their lives in the hope of making a life for themselves in New Jersey. Since watching that, I’ve acquired some interest in exploring more into Honduras; so when this blog post appeared on my reader, I knew it was the post I wanted to use.
    And so, the question of transparent elections arises with the upcoming Honduran elections. This relates directly to our class and the DD, Polity, and Freedom House measures, and the Failed State Index. The biggest problem factors for Honduras include mounting demographic pressures, uneven economic development, poverty, state legitimacy, and intervention of external actors. With elections coming up, these factors could drastically improve or compromise the future legitimacy of the state. Also, The Freedom House, which is now partly free, plays directly into the outcomes of elections, looking particularly at the transparency in elections, and the freedom of citizens to vote for their choice of candidate, which the article notes as a potential problem. DD too plays in when looking at the upcoming change in power, and if a military coup will intervene if the “right” candidate is not elected.
    The prospects for future democracy in Honduras are highly at stake. It will be interesting also to see how the drug/gang violence will be affected by the next leader, connecting back to “Sin Nombre” and the future relations with the United States. I believe that a lot of Latin American relations are hindered by the narcotic violence that exists, which largely affects democracy due to the power of the drug lords. The relations between the United States and Latin America, in my opinion, would be largely improved if the drug problems were not as severe. South and Central America has great potential for energy exports and can be better allies for the United States than the Middle East.


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