Honduras: new party ‘breaks chains’ of old system

Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued an official announcement on Nov. 30 declaring former Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the presidential candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), the victor in general elections that were held on Nov. 24. According to the TSE, Hernández received 36.80% of the vote, while Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the candidate of the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), received 28.79%. Results announced the day before showed Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 20.28% of the vote and Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party (PAC) with 13.72%. The TSE didn’t announce final results for the 128 deputies in the unicameral National Congress, but earlier projections showed the PN winning 47 seats, followed by LIBRE with 39, the PL with 26 and the PAC with 13; each of three smaller parties is expected to have one seat.

The TSE called the turnout historic, with 3.232 million voters participating out of some 5.3 million registered voters, about 61%. Observers and media reports also indicated that participation was high. In the November 2009 elections–which the left boycotted to protest the June 2009 military coup that overthrew president JosĂ© Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009)–the TSE gave several different turnout estimates but eventually said the rate was 49.4%; the left claimed participation was significantly lower.

Both Xiomara Castro and Salvador Nasralla refused to acknowledge the official results and demanded a review of the ballots; a protest march was planned for Dec. 1 in Tegucigalpa. Castro, the wife of former president Zelaya, called the official results “a fraud of incalculable proportions,” although she said her supporters would protest “peacefully.” But Castro noted that even according to the official results LIBRE has become an “important political force.” Previously Honduran politics had been dominated by the PN and the PL. “We broke the chains of two-party rule,” she said.

Without a PN majority in Congress, Hernández’s powers as president will be limited, unless the PL deputies vote consistently with the PN. The LIBRE and PAC delegations may bloc together on some votes, and a LIBRE-PAC bloc would have a majority if 13 PL deputies voted with them. (Honduras Culture and Politics, Nov. 29; InfoNews (Argentina) 11/30/13 from TĂ©lam; TeleSUR 12/1/13, some from EFE)

Most observer delegations upheld the elections’ validity. On Nov. 25, the day after the election, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega Saavedra, the leader of the historically leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), phoned Hernández to congratulate him. Ortega expressed “to the new president of Honduras the willingness of Nicaragua to advance in all the programs of integration, of unity of the Central American region” and “to strengthen the ties” with Honduras, according to Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s spokesperson and wife. (La Prensa, Tegucigalpa, Nov. 25)

But there were many questions about the official results. On Nov. 26 the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) officially commended the electoral process for “transparency as well as respect for the will of voters in the tabulation.” But an EU-EOM member, Austrian journalist Leo Gabriel, said the majority of the European observers who had witnessed the elections on the ground had opposed the official report. “[T]he TSE pulled the results out of their sleeves according to a pre-defined political calculus,” Gabriel said, attributing the EU-EOM’s endorsement of the election to a desire to “clean up Honduras’ image around the world” so that a commercial project, the Association Agreement between the European Union and the Central American region, could proceed smoothly. (Upside Down World, Nov. 29, from Opera Mundi, Brazil) Adding to doubts about the election was a report that the clandestine internet activist group Anonymous had hacked into the TSE’s data base and found discrepancies pointing to fraud—and demonstrated that the data base lacked adequate security. (Honduras Culture and Politics, Nov. 28)

“Indeed, far from announcing a democratic normalization and the overcoming of this country’s political fracturing after the 2009 coup, the electoral process that ended [on Nov. 24] demonstrated that the Honduran political crisis persists,” the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada wrote in a Dec. 1 editorial. It is not clear whether the country can avoid “a very deep social confrontation between the privileged sectors and a grassroots bloc that is still diffuse but is growing,” the editors concluded. (LJ, Dec. 1)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 1.