Just Say No to Presidential Reelection in Honduras

President Juan Orlando Hernández aims to amend the Constitution and allow for reelection in Honduras.
President Hernández aims to amend the Constitution and allow for reelection in Honduras. (Centinela Económico)

Español“From a human rights point of view, no citizen can be denied his right for reelection to a public post, when he or she has popular support.”  These were the words of the chairman of the National Party of Honduras, Gladis Aurora López.

The first response that came to mind when reading such a perplexing statement was Article 374 of the Honduran Constitution, which explicitly prohibits the reelection of the president.

It was the same attempt at tampering with the so-called stone articles of the Honduran Constitution that led to the 2009 political crisis, culminating in the ousting of an elected president, Manuel Zelaya.

However, it seems Latin Americans, and especially Central Americans, suffer from a case of short-term memory syndrome. Let us delve into the past for a moment and relive Zelaya’s initial proposal to include a fourth ballot in the November 2009 elections. The purpose was to have Honduran voters decide whether or not to summon a Constituent Assembly with the aim of rewriting the Constitution, particularly Article 374 and the other “stone articles.”

The Supreme Court deemed the proposal illegal, as did other national institutions, including the military. Zelaya, as commander in chief of the armed forces, removed the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff over his lack of support.

It’s a good thing Juan Orlando Hernández has a more amicable relationship with the military, to say the least. Congress also backs him, as does the Supreme Court. He learned well from Zelaya’s mistakes, and will under no circumstances repeat them.

Hernández has been “legally” paving the way for reelection for years, even before taking office as president. On January 12, 2011, as president of the Congress, Hernández oversaw the approval of game-changing reforms, including changes to Article 5 of the Constitution that now allow for referendums and plebiscites to include the issue of reelection on the ballot.

When controlling 48 seats in Congress, and resorting to not-so-legal ways of gaining support from the remaining 17 seats to achieve the required majority, this has not been as much of a challenge for Hernández as it was for Zelaya.

Classic Latin-American narcissism is perfectly embodied in our politicians’ reluctance to step down after their term is over. Political interests continue to undermine already weakened and fragile Honduran democratic institutions. Deeply rooted differences in political culture between the United States, for example, and Latin-American presidentialism, make it impossible for reelection to be successful in this part of the world.

In Honduras, the president is seeking to remain in power for as long as possible, and by any means possible. This includes resorting to manipulation, intimidation, and corruption, if necessary, much in the same way that President Hugo Chávez held power in Venezuela for 13 years.

Hernández has famously said he would “do what he had to do” in order to achieve power and “bring peace” to Honduras. At no point has his rhetoric included a focus on national unity, inspirational leadership, or respecting the rule of law and democracy. He has openly said he wants his political party to “rule for the next 50 years.”

If he achieves his goal and reelection is approved, Hernández may be tempted to follow the path of neighboring Nicaragua, where Daniel Ortega has grossly manipulated his own country’s Congress and Constitution to enable indefinite reelection. Hernández may even choose to mimic Chávez, who in 1998 swore he would only serve as president for one term, but then changed the rules and remained in power until death unseated him 14 years later.

The bottom line is reelection is unwise, even in alternating periods, in corrupt regions with widespread poverty and weak institutions, like Honduras. As for reelection as a “human right,” Chairman López should do some research as to what human rights actually entail, and realize how the ruling party, which she represents, has woefully fallen short on the issue.

In the words of Enrique Krauze, there are no “necessary” men. Honduras must look to enforce strong democratic leadership, and strive for legitimate, transparent, and efficient institutions and elections.

It is in citizens’ hands to either allow or to stop this by making use of constitutional guarantees and demanding politicians respect the Constitution and the rule of law. It is through responsible, active participation, and a reliable system of checks and balances, that a truly democratic civil culture will emerge, where the only “necessary” men are citizens, acting freely within the framework of law and institutions.

Once in power, very few Latin-American leaders would ever willingly step down. If we allow it, even those who have may strive to regain control, including Zelaya.

Edited by Guillermo Jimenez.

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