The Perils of Democracy: Honduran Election Aftermath

Picking Up the Pieces of a Fragmented Outcome

EspañolOne week after the general elections in Honduras, an environment of disagreement and uncertainty prevails in the Central American country — one of the poorest, most insecure, and corrupt in the region. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal of this country has already proclaimed a victor: Juan Orlando Hernández of Partido Nacional, who was elected with 36.8 percent of the popular vote. However, in second place, just a mere 250,000 votes away, we have the new socialist party, LIBRE, with Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as the candidate. She is not accepting the results, and LIBRE has denounced electoral fraud and already carried out several peaceful protests.

The truly remarkable result of this election, though, is the end of two-party dominance in a country where it prevailed for more than 30 years. This came after the fragmentation of one of the traditional parties, the Partido Liberal de Honduras. With the newly created LIBRE party offshoot in second place, the ideological spectrum of options available to the electorate amplified, and political forces reconfigured.

Never in the history of this country has a presidential election been so close or competitive with the results, in both percentage-points and votes counted. As a consequence, the incumbent party’s control of Congress will not be as high as it has been in the past. Instead, the newly elected president, facing almost 65 percent opposition, will have to manage a divided parliament, and most likely a president of the Unicameral Congress that does not belong to Partido Nacional.

Since Partido Nacional only has the backing of a third of the electorate, if LIBRE and the new Partido Anti Corrupción (PAC), that achieved almost one-sixth of the vote, become allies, they will probably reach a majority in Congress. On the other hand, the possibility of third-place Partido Liberal joining the opposition is remote, given its animosity with LIBRE; they will probably be more in line with the Partido Nacional proposals, even though they have been eternal foes. Something similar happened in 2009, when these two traditional parties became allies in the voting of the ousting of former President Manuel Zelaya, husband of Xiomara Castro.

Juan Orlando Hernández is currently facing multiple challenges from PAC and especially LIBRE, who have rejected the official results and called on supporters to march in the streets. They do this in spite of the fact that the elections were monitored by a large number of International Organizations, including the European Union and the Organization of American States, whose observers maintained transparency. While the observer missions expressed concern about excessive campaign financing and vote-buying, they concluded, nonetheless, that the overall results were clean.

Apart from the reigning insecurity due to drug crime and gang conflicts, the incoming government will face a huge budget deficit and a flagging economy. International financial institutions, such as the IMF, have yet to sign a Stand-By Arrangement with Honduras, due to worsening financial markets, low international reserves (that barely cover 3.3 months of imports), and a steep deterioration in its current account balances. This task of organizing public finances might be further strained by the presence of the aforementioned three major parties in Congress, including LIBRE, complicating decision-making and the passage of bills.

Given the election results, a need for several changes in the Honduran Electoral Law becomes evident. Citizens must demand, for example, more aggressive legislation regarding the financing of campaigns, making accountability a rule. Also, a second round of voting is imperative, so presidential candidates must achieve a majority of votes — as is the case in Chile this month. Finally, a change to the composition of polling station organizers is necessary, to one that integrates citizens and not active members of the political parties.

The important thing now for Honduras is that citizens and diverse sectors of society make sure that politicians elected to office fulfill their campaign promises and the country’s big demands.

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