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Honduran Politicians: More Important than They Should Be

By: Guillermo Peña Panting - Oct 30, 2013, 9:18 am

EspañolHonduran citizens are less than a month away from their general elections, scheduled for November 24. The process represents a very important test for our country: it will show not only the likely course the officials will take, but also the real impact that Manuel Zelaya’s impeachment — on June 28, 2009 — had on the political sentiment of the population.

All candidates are competing freely and under the same set of rules, defined by the Supreme Electoral Court: just as the Honduran national soccer team competed in the Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Only organized and rule-abiding teams should have a chance to compete for the presidency of the republic.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since that day, now known as “28-J,” with few successes and many questions. Those questions should not focus on determining which party will survive the upcoming elections, but rather on the state of institutions after such a power struggle. It is my opinion that our long-term governance goal should be to have a popular president, with regional influence, or even global influence, akin to the presidents and ministers of New Zealand, Finland, and Belgium. We do not aim to emulate these leaders because they come from developed countries, but because, should we achieve that goal, it would mean we were living in a country structured on clear and fair rules, and not on the whims of the people in office.

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Hondurans in Tegucigalpa voice their opposition to Manuel Zelaya (2009). Source: El País

Honduras is now at a crossroads regarding these elections, simply because the country’s institutions are so weak; they force elected presidents to develop delusions of “royalty with expiration dates.” The particular people in office become more important than they should be, and their mistakes end up affecting the population more than they would otherwise.

Our elections have become a national pastime, a clash of passions about political colors and great chieftain-like leaders. The population forgets that the strengthening of institutions has always been the most important outcome. Honduran leaders promise they will steer the country away from its dismal course, away from its eternal problem of poverty. However, they fail to mention that they are the same politicians who, in their constant quest to change the rules of the game, have achieved but one thing: for everything to remain the same.

Two years ago, Belgium spent more than 500 days without a functioning executive branch, because a majority could not be achieved in parliament. What happened then? Absolutely nothing! I witnessed it myself. Nothing happened because their institutions worked.

Can we think of any Latin American country capable of going through that situation for more than 15 days? The only situation that comes to mind is one of chaos, demonstrations, violence — a savage race to the presidential chair.

The road is long, so the battle of ideas must never stop. In a country so mired in poverty and hunger, it is hard to keep a steady course in the long term. But working for the long term is the only way to achieve lasting changes, and when reforms aim at the roots of the problem, for them to be positive, they require us to start from scratch: in this case, building the credibility of institutions.

Reform is a two-edged sword: if done wrong, it is a step back; if done right, it means allowing new institutions to become larger and stronger than the politicians who furthered the reform. So long as the population expects the next president to be the one who will set the course to achieve development, each politician continues to think of himself as the embodiment of that idea. Thus, they undermine the possibility of having clear and strong rules, strong enough to transcend governments and political whims, and stronger still over time. These are the ideas that will truly lead us to development.

We Hondurans had to wait 28 years before seeing our flag waving in the World Cup, and even then we realized that getting there was not enough; we could not celebrate. Only with confidence in the organization, and not just the individual players, will we be able to reach our destination. The same rules must be applied in the real world, the world of the majority who will not be part of the football team — for people to defeat poverty by themselves and achieve happiness.

Translated by Ceteris-Paribus.

Guillermo Peña Panting Guillermo Peña Panting

Guillermo Peña Panting is the executive director of Eléutera, a new classical liberal think tank in Honduras. He completed his undergraduate studies at North Carolina State University and his Masters in Economics with Universidad Francisco Marroquín. Follow @GuillermoP_HN.