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A week on from the general elections held in Honduras, on 27 November, there is still no definitive result. The main candidates are presidential incumbent Juan Orlando Hernández, referred to locally as JOH, of the right-wing National Party, versus Salvador Nasralla of the Opposition Alliance, which brings together sectors from the political left and centre ground. The political environment in which the vote was held was extremely polarised, fuelled by Juan Orlando’s candidacy for re-election, considered illegal and unconstitutional in many sectors.
Stop Press: OAS observers confirm inconsistencies in the count, with “irregularities, errors and systematic problems”, while the leader of the opposition alliance, former president Manuel Zelaya, has called for a full recount.
The slow vote count by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, known as the TSE, coupled with doubts about the transparency of the elections caused tension to escalate following the elections. The TSE did not publish any results for more than 10 hours after the polls closed, and its first report gave a 5% lead to Nasralla. Subsequently, the electronic counting system crashed and when it was up and running the trend was reversed, giving the lead to Juan Orlando Hernández. There was unrest across the country, followed by a strong crack down by the army and police. According to human rights organisations, by Saturday 4th December, at least 14 people were dead and dozens wounded. A curfew from 6pm to 6am was put into place for ten days.
Since the coup
To understand the root causes of this crisis we must go back to the events of 28th June 2009, when former President Manuel Zelaya Rosales was overthrown by what was in effect a coup d’état, “paradoxically, […] after trying to hold a referendum on the […] issue” of presidential re-election.
According to Wilfredo Méndez, Executive Director of Christian Aid partner organisation the Centre for Research and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH): “since 2009 the Honduran people have experienced an extraordinary awakening in their political awareness…in the 2013 presidential elections, society broke with the dominant two-party system of the last century”, by voting en masse for two new parties the Party of Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE) and the Anticorruption Party (PAC) that joined forced to become the Opposition Alliance.
Concentration and corruption
For a significant part of the population, the arrival of Juan Orlando Hernández to the presidency in 2014 mollified their desire for change. For Méndez, ‘Juan Orlando Hernández’ route to the presidency was the culmination of a well-calculated strategy, since his term as president of the National Congress during the mandate of Porfirio Lobo (2009-2013)’. His presidency has since become notorious for corruption, a lack of transparency and the concentration of power around himself. There have been numerous revelations about the links between leaders of the National Party and organised crime. Yet they appear to have fallen upon deaf ears, with no apparent consequence for any of the alleged perpetrators, many of whom remain in positions of power within the State and the National Party.
The most significant corruption scandal has perhaps been the embezzlement at the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS), in which the president has admitted that some of the funds taken were used in his 2013 election campaign. In connection with this case, it also came to light that a pharmaceutical laboratory supposedly linked to one of Congress’s vice-presidents had sold to the IHSS counterfeit medicines which allegedly caused a number of deaths.
All power to the President
The concentration of State powers has been another of JOH’s strategies. Over the years, the president managed to bring in a new cohort of Supreme Court Justices from the National and Liberal Parties, much to the consternation of politicians from the LIBRE and PAC parties. To consolidate control over the remaining state powers, JOH created an organisation called the National Defence and Security Council to which, according to Méndez, the president managed to ‘submit the Public Prosecutor’s Office (prosecutor’s office) to the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. and other institutions.’
This culminated in 2013 with the creation of a new military police force known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) which, according to Méndez, constitutes ‘a corrupt force at his disposal to blindly obey his power structure’, and which has played a prominent role in the repression of protest following the 27 November elections.
Lack of transparency has been another defining feature of a government which legislated to allow the concealment of information on key state institutions, including those responsible for organising the current electoral process.
However, the issue which has undoubtedly caused most controversy in Honduras is the way the presidential incumbent managed to annul constitutional articles that prohibited presidential re-election so that he could stand for a second term. Whilst Honduran society was baffled by this, the National Party machinery was readying itself to launch an electoral process led by Juan Orlando in which there was to be no possibility of defeat.
According to Gerardo Torres, International Director of the Opposition Alliance, the lack of credibility in the electoral process is such that “never in the country’s recent history have there been as many protests “, which points to “the deep rejection by Hondurans of Juan Orlando Hernández and his policies”.
According to Wilfredo Méndez, “it is the awakening of the collective Honduran conscience that has prevented the TSE from imposing a fraud that had been brewing for a long time; mobilisation in the streets has been extraordinary, although it has been paid for with human lives”; “if Juan Orlando imposes himself on the basis of fraud, human rights violations will increase”.
The clear proof is this curfew with the suspension of constitutional guarantees, which JOH established on Friday and under which we have seen deaths, assaults and arrests.
Since the afternoon of Monday 4 December, all national police have refused to enforce the president’s curfew, calling Juan Orlando a dictator. The possibility of confrontations between police and military forces casts a further shadow over the country. Whilst tensions continue to increase, the TSE has had to accede to the request of the electorion observation missions of the European Union and the Organisation of American States (OAS) to carry out a recount of more than 5,000 ballot boxes, as requested by the Opposition Alliance. The Alliance is confident that this count will confirm Salvador Nasralla’s victory.
Despite current uncertainty, Wilfredo Méndez cannot help but to look optimistically at the future of Honduras: “The conscience of the Honduran people has been strengthened. Youth and community leadership has developed a lot over recent years. We have hope as a country.”
After the events of recent days, reasonable doubts arise about the ability of Juan Orlando Hernández to lead a country in which he causes so much animosity, and in which broad political and social sectors have joined forces against him, including the entire spectrum on the left, but also centrist, and business sectors.