Honduras: Fear and Uncertainty Clouding an Open Race
EspañolOn Sunday, Hondurans will elect a new president who will assume the presidency in January. After several years of political convulsions, beginning with the overthrow of former President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Hondurans can choose from eight different candidates from distinct parties. Besides the president, 128 members of Congress are up for election, along with 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament, and officials in the 298 municipalities.
During the presidential campaign, a polarization of options has become evident. It’s no wonder: the political climate has divided forces between those who supported Zelaya and those who didn’t. In the wake, positioning themselves as the leading candidates, are Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, of the historic Partido Nacional (PN) and the establishment, and Xiomara Castro Sarmiento of the socialist Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE).
Hernández is the ruling party’s candidate, while Castro is the wife of former President Zelaya, who founded LIBRE by summoning the left wing of Partido Liberal (PL), the party that brought him to the presidency in 2006. They, in turn, have selected Mauricio Villeda. The other competing candidates are Jorge Aguilar (Partido Innovación y Unidad, PINU), Andrés Pavón (Frente Amplio Político Electoral en Resistencia, FAPER; y Unificación Democrática, UD), Salvador Nasralla (Partido AntiCorrupción de Honduras, PAC), Romeo Vásquez (Alianza Patriótica Hondureña), and Orle Solis (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC).
Honduran Law prohibits publishing polls during the month prior to elections, and the same goes for campaign activity from Monday, a week earlier. On October 24, the most recent polls showed Hernandez and Castro fighting for the presidency with about 27 percent of the vote, with a slight advantage for Hernandez. Of respondents, 17 percent gave their support for Villeda, 9 percent for PAC, and the other five candidates shared around 4 percent combined. The remaining 15 percent of voters, however, were undecided.
With so many undecided, the Partido Liberal candidate still has a great chance to compete for the presidency, but the absence of polls makes it impossible to know the final decision of voters until after the election. The two candidates who led the latest known polls are, however, taking advantage of this lack of information, as Jorge Gallardo Ruis asures, to play on fears and split the undecided. As in many other campaigns, these candidates are also seeking touting their credibility with expected results.
In other words, both the right and left have resorted to inflating fear over their opposition, pretending that the presidential election is disputed between just two sides and ignoring the center. Elections are one-off opportunities, and the candidate who wins in the first round is elected president. Predictably, Hernandez and Castro are manipulating voters by implying that only one of the two can win, and you know you don’t want the extremists to get in!
Ironically, it’s the center that loses votes with this strategy, since LIBRE voters are unlikely to change their minds and support the PN, and vice versa. While the latest polls published seem to be propagating the two-horse race, let us consider whether other candidates have a chance at beating the supposed frontrunners?
According to published data on candidate public confidence, both Villeda and the PAC candidate, Nasralla, possess better public perceptions than Castro and Hernández, despite their earlier polls at 22 and 9 percent. Meanwhile, North American polls say Villeda is winning the presidency with 34.5 percent of the electorate.
On Friday, at his closing rally in Comayagua, Villeda urged voters to ignore terror campaigns being carried out by extremist groups, nor should they fear violence looming over the electoral process. Instead of hosting a large closing rally, he chose to use campaign funds to support various community needs to appeal to potential voters.
On Sunday, we’ll see whether his campaign can overcome the propaganda of the two candidates who did little to address the population’s main concerns — Porfirio Lobo’s failed government services and Zelaya’s unstable legacy hanging over his wife and the nation — but even more so, whether he can overcome the fears only populists can manufacture.