On November 24, almost 5.3 million Hondurans will go to the polls to elect the next president, 128 members of Congress, 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament, and 298 representatives of municipal governments, for four year term, starting in January 2014.
Nine political organizations have been authorized to take part in the elections. These include the right-wing National Party, in office, and the Liberal Party – which have alternated power for more than a century. There is also the leftist Liberty and Re-foundation (LIBRE), of the ousted president Manuel Zelaya (2006-2009), and the People’s Force and Action in Resistance (FAPER).
The other parties are the Innovation and Unity Party, Christian Democratic Party, Democratic Unification Party, the Anticorruption Party (PAC) and the Patriotic Alliance, the latter is a political-military project led by Romeo Vásquez, a former head of the Armed Forces, who led the 2009 coup.
Several analysts agree that the two main themes of these elections will be the problem of public insecurity — Honduras is considered the world’s most violent country, with 85.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to official figures — and the political polarization that resulted from Zelaya’s overthrow.
According to opinion polls, voters in Honduras, will choose their President between two radically opposite political poles. On one side, the National Party’s proposal of continuity, whose candidate, Congressman Juan Orlando Hernandez, according to the latest CID Gallup poll survey, is at 27% in national voting intentions, on the other, the Liberty and Re-foundation Party, whose candidate is Manuel Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, at 29%, with a 2% margin of error.
The National Party has promised to develop a larger market with a substantial participation of international corporations and to increase militarization in order to combat crime. Castro instead wants to implement a political system similar to the Latin American left with institutional reforms starting from the Constitution and the judicial system. Mauricio Villeda, is the presidential candidate of the country’s 3rd party, the Liberal Party. He got 15% in the survey and is seen as a very honest person representing traditional values. The CID Gallup poll also mentioned “reported doubts about the capacity of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral to organize and execute honest and transparent elections.”
Alejandro Barahona, an international political analyst, said that next November’s elections may show a shift in traditional Honduran bipartisanship. “Poll numbers reflect the collapse of confidence in both the National and the Liberal parties. This might suggest a change from a bi-party to a multi-party system in which new options are on the increase as the percentage of undecided voters decreases,” said Barahona. This scenario suggests parties will have to share power because none will attain absolute majority in elections.
The shadow of the 2009 coup
Xiomara Castro just happens to be former Honduras President Manuel Zelaya’s wife. This can’t be ignored. According to analysts, the possible rise to power of LIBRE’s candidate might cause friction with the army. Barahona says that, “Xiomara Castro’s election would mean the victory of an alternative vision of development, typical of a centre-left ideology. Different from those sectors supported by the army. The question that arises is about the role the army and the international community would play in this new context.”
According to the Labour Market Observatory of the Ministry of Labour, in 2012 67% of the population – 5.5 million people – was living in poverty. 3.8 million of them below the poverty line. FOSDEH (Social Forum on Honduras’ Foreign Debt) data show that, from 2009 to 2012, the number of poor increased by 2.1 million.
Currently, total debt, estimated at nearly 14 billion dollars, has exceeded 70% of GDP, the fiscal deficit hit 6%, while 63% of employees and 80% of the self-employed earn below the minimum wage and the equivalent of the goods basket.
Family remittances are the first source of foreign currency, which last year hit three billion dollars. On the contrary, the productive, agricultural, industrial, and construction sectors suffered a sharp contraction. Public investment is disappearing, as almost 50% of income taxes is used for debt service and wage spending. According to Raf Flores, sub-coordinator at FOSDEH, “Whoever the winner is, they will have to face a very complicated situation. They will have to eliminate those factors which cause economic immobility, marginalization, and social inequality, and establish new rules to enhance a serious economic and social deal in the country.”
Esteban Angel Bonilla