Elections In Honduras: Why Xiomara Castro Leads The Count And What Is At Stake

Elections in Honduras: why Xiomara Castro leads the count and what is at stake

The distance had to be overwhelming to avoid a crisis. In a country without a second electoral round, with distrust in its electoral institutions and with the open wound of the 2009 coup, the difference in votes between the left-wing candidate, Xiomara Castro, and the government’s candidate, the conservative Nasry Asfura, it had to be clear to avoid a dangerous fight for the votes. And so it has happened, according to the latest poll data.

Everything indicates that the center-left will return to government in Honduras and that Castro, from the Libertad y Refundación (Libre) party, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, will be the first female president in the country’s history. If this trend is confirmed, the result will be historic in a country where presidents tend to come to power with anemic electoral results and without much difference.

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In Sunday’s election, with more than 51% of the ballots processed, Castro outperformed Asfura by more than 20%. So far, the Libre candidate gets 56% compared to 34% of the current mayor of Tegucigalpa, according to the preliminary report of the National Electoral Council.

The data indicates that Castro will end more than a decade of conservative governments. The result seals the dismissal of the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, who will end his term on January 27. It would also be the end of the cycle of three consecutive terms of the National Party that has governed since the November 2009 elections.

Another striking feature of this election is the high level of participation: more than 68% of the five million qualified people participated in the elections to elect the president, 298 mayors, 128 deputies and 20 legislators of the Central American Parliament.

The unity of the center-left is a key piece in the victory of the opposition. The decision of the presidential candidates Salvador Nasralla, of the Salvador Party of Honduras, and Milton Benítez, of Honduras Humana, to renounce their individual candidacies to join forces behind Castro is the main element that explains their triumph.

Although his candidacy leads an electoral alliance that does not translate into a government coalition, the agreements must be reflected in a type of administration that is capable of dialogue with the minority forces of the opposition.

The night the Armed Forces removed President Manuel Zelaya from his home and took him to Costa Rica, on June 28, 2009, Xiomara Castro began his political career. The construction of his political profile has been linked to the figure of the former president, even in his timid passage through the female branch of the Liberal Party in Catacamas.

In 2011, with Zelaya’s return to Honduras, the sector most critical of the government decided to break with the Liberal Party and form the Libertad y Refundación (Free) Party. In 2013, Castro was elected as a candidate for president. The decision was then understood more because of Zelaya’s inability to participate in a new presidential election than because of the candidate’s political career. However, recently he has managed to grow his figure with greater autonomy in the image of the former president.

Castro will become the first female president of Honduras. The path was opened by Nora de Melgar, also the wife of a former president of Honduras, who in 1996 was the first woman to present a candidacy for the presidency, although without much success. In 2013, Castro ran but lost after tight elections that gave the president, the right-wing Juan Orlando Hernández, the victory.

In the 2017 elections, Castro resigned to run on his own and supported the candidacy of Salvador Nasralla, who also lost.

For a century, two parties shared power: the conservative National Party and the centrist Liberal Party, which brought Manuel Zelaya to the presidency in 2000. The 2009 coup that ended the Zelaya government caused a rift within the Party Liberal. The most critical of the removal by force of the president formed in 2000 the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre), which led Castro as a candidate for president in 2017 and this Sunday.

Since 2013, Honduras has witnessed a proliferation of new political stamps that explain why Hondurans have reached this election with 12 presidential candidates, of which only two had a chance of winning.

The focus was on electoral transparency. The precedent of 2017, where the opposition to the conservative government of Juan Orlando Hernández rejected the results and denounced cases of fraud, eroded trust in the institutions.

This Sunday, the website of the National Electoral Council was suspended in the hours after the polls closed, which worried the opponents above all. This was an election where any technical problem could put the whole process in doubt. However, after a few hours it returned to normal, avoiding repeating the disorder of the 36 hours without service of 2017.

In any case, the slowness in the vote count shows the delicate situation faced by the electoral institutions in Honduras.

The demanding attention in the count and the alliances between the opposition parties has an explanation: in Honduras the candidates become presidents with simple majorities. Juan Orlando Hernández became president of the country with 37% of the votes.

In 2017, President Hernández, who amended the Constitution to contest a second consecutive term, achieved victory with a margin of just over one point against the Opposition Alliance made up of the Freedom and Refoundation Party, Salvador Nasralla and the Innovation Party. and Unity.

The result came after a 36-hour CNE news blackout. Nasralla surpassed Hernández by a margin of 5% until the final scrutiny report arrived reversing the scenario and confirming the victory to the Government. This change in results pushed opponents to the streets amid allegations of fraud.

In this context, in October of last year, the opposition presented to the National Congress a reform of the Electoral Law to include the possibility of a second round. But the ruling majority did not let the measure pass.

The return of the left to the Government of Honduras has several effects.

In the first place, for the current president, since, with the change of government, the judicial investigations against him could advance. The president’s brother and former deputy, Tony Hernández, was convicted in March of drug trafficking in a New York court for participating in the importation of 185,000 kilos of cocaine into the United States. Investigations into the president for suspected ties to drug trafficking could advance faster if his party is no longer in government.

Furthermore, Castro’s victory may close a cycle of democratic erosion opened by the 2009 coup and deepened in the successive general elections marked by allegations of fraud and irregularities. The challenge is to rebuild democratic institutions and the rule of law.

It should also be considered that Honduras is the second poorest country in Latin America, after Haiti. The vast majority of its 10 million inhabitants are sunk in poverty, which is why more than a million Hondurans have left the country. However, it is not clear how much the new government will be able and willing to do to change the deepest inequalities.

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