The End of Patsy Opposition

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

During the past four years, the National Party has controlled 71 of the 128 seats in Honduras' National Congress. Thus, whenever the Nationalists wanted to pass legislation -- be it the Model Cities, the Security Tax, the new Mining Law, or the Military Police -- it could often do so all by its lonesome. Congress, under the leadership Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández (now President-elect) has been one of the most activist legislatures in Honduran history -- precisely because of the overwhelming majority that the Nationalists have enjoyed. But the idea that the legislative agenda of Mr. Hernández and his Nationalist colleagues was passed only by party line votes is fiction.

All of the major and extremely controversial laws mentioned above were passed by much wider margins than merely 10 percent had only Nationalists voted in favor of them, and members of the Liberal, Democratic Unification (UD), Christian Democratic (DC) and Innovation and Unity (Pinu) parties voted against. In other words, with its 71 representatives voting as a block, the Nationalists could have carried every vote on regular bills (non-constitutional ones needing a simple majority for passage) on their own by 55 percent to 45 percent. But they didn't; they always won with plenty more votes than they needed. The same was true with the votes on constitutional changes, which required the addition of at least 15 representatives from other  parties for a super majority of two-thirds.


For example, in March 2011, Congress passed a law (Decree 4-2011) reforming the law (Decree 283-2010) setting forth the legal framework under the Constitution for the Model Cities and ratifying it. Of the 128 representatives, only four voted against the legislation. What happened to the opposition? Of the 57 non-Nationalist members of Congress (45 Liberals, five DCs, four UDs, and three from the Pinu), only four had the backbone to stand up to Mr. Hernández and his party? This was a huge vote because it involved legislation that essentially creates semi-autonomous economic zones within Honduras, bringing into serious question the very sovereignty of the nation. All that would have been needed was for all 45 Liberal representatives to have voted "no", and the Model Cities bill would have been defeated.


Congress followed up on July 28, 2011 and passed the law to regulate the proposed Model Cities. Of the 128 reps, 105 cheerfully voted in favor, six against, and five abstained. The others didn't bother to show up.


After the Supreme Court ruled 13-2 on October 17, 2012 that the Model Cities law was unconstitutional, Congress moved to tweak the law. On January 23, 2013, Congress passed a more constitutionally palatable version of Model Cities by a vote of 110 ayes, three nays, and five abstentions.


On June 22, 2011, Congress passed the Security Tax law (Decree 105-2011) -- a 0.3 percent levy on bank transactions on accounts over Lps 120,000 (US$6,000) -- aimed at raising tens of millions of dollars for investments in the police and other security personnel and programs. Of the 128 reps, 91 voted in favor. No sweat.


Want more? Okay. Let's take the reforms to the Mining Law (Decree 292-98) passed by Congress on January 23, 2013. The law will significantly expand mining activities -- particularly the nasty open-pit type -- in Honduras by opening the way for the granting of potentially hundreds of new mining concessions to both domestic and foreign mining companies. Again, the country is being prostituted for a relatively few jobs and a pittance in new duties, in exchange for razing the land and poisoning the rivers, streams and lakes. The final vote? It wasn't readily reported by the press, but the Spanish-language newspapers did mention that a "wide majority" of representatives voted for each of the law's 102 articles.


On August 22, 2013, Congress approved a law establishing the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), or just plain "Military Police". The vote wasn't close. On January 6, 2014, Congress tweaked the Constitution to officially make the Military Police part of the Armed Forces of Honduras and designated the force's role, as specified under last year's law. There were 109 votes in favor and three abstentions. Apparently, nobody had the slightest nerve to take on the establishment on this issue. The Nationalists alone couldn't have made the constitutional modifications to keep the Military Police around for the long-term. They needed Liberals and others to play their game.


There were other crucial votes in which there was precious little opposition to the Nationalist agenda, including the massive package of tax increases passed by the lame duck Congress on December 20, 2013. Oh, and there was that time when Mr. Hernández called for a quick vote by Congress in the early morning hours of December 12, 2012 to fire four of the 15 Supreme Court justices because he didn't like the way they ruled on Decree 5-2012 and Decree 89-2012 -- the first of which modified the law guiding the operation of the police, and the second suspended a number of due process parts of the law guiding police operation for a six-month period under an emergency declaration. By the next day, Congress had already appointed four replacements. Opposition? Barely seen or heard.


If Liberals are still scratching their heads wondering why they lost so big in the general elections, one reason they might consider is that, when it counted, they were never able to mount a strong opposition in Congress. For the most part, Liberals allowed Nationalists to dictate both the agenda and the terms. Liberals looked dazed and disorganized, and they paid a price for it at the polls.


When Mr. Hernández takes over as President on January 27, the National Party will hold only 48 seats in Congress. Nationalists will have to form alliances, coalitions to pass laws over the next four years. They will require 18 additional votes to pass bills by simple majorities. They'll need 37 more votes to pass constitution-related bills by super majorities. The Libre Party will control 37 seats, the Liberals 27, the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) will have 13, and the UD, DC, and Pinu will each have one. The math will be infinitely more complicated, and there will now be pushback. (1/16/14) (image courtesy Internet)


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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