Honduras: center-left candidate edges ahead

The first opinion poll relating to this year’s Nov. 10 general elections in Honduras, released on Jan. 29, showed Xiomara Castro, the presidential candidate of the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), slightly ahead with 25% of voter preferences. She was followed by National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández, the candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), with 23% and Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 16%. The sampling, carried out by Cid Gallup firm Jan. 14-18 with responses from 1,256 likely voters, was published by the San Pedro Sula daily La Prensa.

The poll shows a striking change in the country’s political scene, which was dominated by the PN and the LP until June 2009, when a military coup overthrew then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009). LIBRE was formed by the grassroots National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) coalition in late June 2011 and has never fielded candidates before, while Castro is relatively new to politics and is best known as the wife of former president Zelaya. “LIBRE has given a real surprise to the country” in the 19 months since it was formed, Zelaya, who heads the party, told La Prensa after the poll results were released. “I see great possibilities for it to assume power in the coming elections.”

Other political analysts feel the PN remains the strongest party. The margin of error in the poll, given as two percentage points, means that Castro and Hernández are in a statistical tie, and the PN’s level of support in the poll is 33%, well ahead of LIBRE’s 21%. These analysts also feel that controlling Congress is more important than holding the presidency; last month the legislators gave themselves the power to impeach the president. But the traditional parties are clearly weakened. The LP was hurt by its poor performance in the chaotic months after the coup, while the PN is suffering from internal fights and the widespread dissatisfaction with current president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, a PN leader. Hondurans now rank him as the worst president in the country’s history, according to the poll. (Reuters, Jan. 29; La Prensa, Jan. 30; Honduras Culture and Politics, Jan. 31)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 3.