Why Mr. Hernández May Win

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

The National Party has never won two consecutive presidential elections. Never. Since Honduras transitioned from a military dictatorship to a relative democracy in 1982, the Liberal Party has consistently won two elections, followed by one for the Nationalists, then two for the Liberals, and so forth. The reason the Nationalists have not won more often is because, like the Republicans in the United States, they are the smaller party. There are many more Liberals in Honduras than Nationalists, but the Nationalists tend to be more united and work harder (or smarter) to mobilize their people to vote on election day; they have to in order to stand any chance of winning. The Nationalists will have to work even harder than usual to get out the vote on November 24 for three main reasons.

First reason: The National Party won the last presidential election in 2009, so by historical trends it's their turn to lose. Second reason: The social, economic, and political situation in Honduras stinks. The economy is miserable and the violent crime rate is higher than ever (the international image of the country is in the sewer), plus there have been numerous legislative moves to undermine the Constitution and further erode the country's already weak democratic system. Three independent branches of government? Hardly. Forget the judicial one. All this has taken place under Nationalist President Porfirio Lobo and a Nationalist-controlled Congress headed by Juan Orlando Hernández, who is the National Party's presidential candidate.

 

Third reason: Mr. Hernández is not such a great candidate. While he is viewed as a strong and competent leader, he is not personally well-liked, and he does not inspire trust. There is concern that Mr. Hernández is too clever by half, and that he ultimately has ambitions to rule Honduras for much longer than one four-year term. This scares a lot of Hondurans, who see Mr. Hernández as the conservative version of former president Manuel Zelaya -- someone who has too much ego and ambition for his own good -- not to mention the good of the country. There is also suspicion about how he intends to use the newly-formed Military Police. Will he use it as his own personal militia to try and silence or control his opposition? No kidding; Hondurans are saying this kind of stuff.

 

In short, if you go by President Lobo's record and the record of the Congress, there's plenty of reason to argue that the Nationalists do not merit a second presidential term, and thus should lose the upcoming election. However, this election is an unusual one in that, for the first time in Honduran history, there are four presidential candidates who stand a decent chance of winning. For the first time, there are four strong political parties, rather than the usual two. This situation, in general, should work to the benefit of the Nationalists and might be enough to overcome their poor governing record over the last four years and all that fear about Mr. Hernández.

 

Perhaps the biggest advantage the Nationalists have is that their traditional rival, the Liberal Party, divided following Mr. Zelaya's overthrow in 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Liberals left their party and formed a new one called Liberty and Refoundation, or "Libre". Libre's presidential candidate is Xiomara Castro de Zelaya -- Mr. Zelaya's wife. Some estimates have the Liberals losing at least  a quarter of their base, and as much as half. That's an awful lot of voters to make up within four short years. So if Liberal presidential candidate Mauricio Villeda wins, it will be on the strength of his ability to attract Libre supporters back to their original party, draw conservative voters away from the National Party, and convince most of the independents. And even then, Mr. Villeda would only squeak by.

 

Oh, another advantage the Nationalists have is the so-called "Bono 10,000" program, begun in 2010 by the Lobo administration and funded through a US$100 million loan extended by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This is a welfare program aimed at giving cash payments to the poorest families in Honduras. Note that the money doesn't always  end up in the hands of the poor. During the past four years, this program has doled out a lot of money -- much of it given away by Mr. Lobo and Mr. Hernández themselves at events highlighting all the great things being done by the National Party and encouraging everyone to vote for the Nationalist candidate. In other words, this program has been politicized to the point where it is clear that many people and their votes are being purchased.

 

To be fair, there have been other programs like the Bono 10,000, and they've been used in the same manner by the Liberals. Buying votes in exchange for welfare payments is nothing new in Honduras. But in this case, the program has been better promoted than most in the past. Mr. Lobo has proudly touted it as one of his signature "achievements". Meanwhile, Mr. Hernández is also claiming credit for it and promising to expand it, if elected.

 

The idea of giving the poorest of the poor welfare payments is not a bad one, particularly if the money is accompanied with training and other services and materials that would enable the poor to eventually get on their feet and become self-sufficient. That's  good governance. The idea of the President of the country and the President of the National Congress personally handing out cash and reminding the impoverished, desperate recipients to vote for them is repugnant, and it verges on extortion. (11/20/13) (image courtesy Internet)

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Note: The author is the editor and cofounder of Honduras Weekly. He is an aerospace market analyst by profession. He was born in Tegucigalpa. He is the author of "The Good Coup: The Overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras".

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