Deciding a new president will be key for Honduras, a country that — in the words of El Faro’s Carlos Martínez — “is in the hands of dangerous mafias that blur the boundaries of the state.”
Xiomara Castro — the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, removed from office in a 2009 coup and suspected of receiving bribes from drug traffickers — was leading in the polls with 38 percent, according to an October poll by the Center for Studies for Democracy (CESPAD). Castro is the candidate for the leftist Libre Party founded in 2011 by her husband. Her campaign promises include bringing back social spending from Zelaya’s government, decriminalizing abortion in three cases, and establishing diplomatic relations with China.
She rose in the polls after forming an alliance with another opposition candidate, former TV host Salvador Nasralla, in October.
“The alliance had a strong psychological impact on voters because since then, everything has indicated that Xiomara and Libre are going to win the election,” Julio Raudales, vice rector of international relations at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, told El Faro English. “These elections represent the possibility of a positive change, and if they are carried out intelligently, they could generate certain benefits for the country,” he added. Read more on the game-changing electoral alliance in our Oct. 15 newsletter.
In second place in the polls is Nasry “Tito” Asfura, of the ruling National Party, garnering about 21 percent of voter support. Asfura is the current mayor of Tegucigalpa and is being investigated for the embezzlement of $1 million in public funds. Many Hondurans view his candidacy as a continuation of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was illegally re-elected in 2017 and has been named as a co-conspirator in drug trafficking in a U.S. court.
The poll did not report the percentage of voters who preferred Yani Rosenthal, the candidate for the Liberal Party who previously served a 3-year sentence in U.S. federal prison for laundering drug money. A September poll by CID Gallup reported that 13 percent of voters supported him.
Honduran voters will also choose their mayors, legislators, and members of Central American Parliament.
Despite what appears to be a solid lead in the polls, Castro’s win is far from certain. Since the 2009 coup, Honduran elections have been marred by allegations of fraud and political violence. More than 70 percent of Hondurans surveyed in the CESPAD poll said they believed there will be some level of fraud in these elections. Even so, about 60 percent of Hondurans said they planned to vote. Although voting is required by law in Honduras, a lack of enforcement means many Hondurans still abstain.
In the last elections in 2017, the vote counting system went offline when opposition candidate Nasralla was winning by nearly 5 percent. When it came back online more than a day later, the race was much closer, and President Hernández was eventually declared the winner. Citizens who believed the election was stolen took to the streets to protest and were met with violent repression from security forces that left at least 30 dead.
There are many ways the National Party can stack the odds in its favor this time. According to a report by CESPAD, the National Party has been using state resources to drum up its voter base by giving out humanitarian aid to struggling families, including those affected by last year’s hurricanes.
“The fact that the National Party has at its disposal unrestricted access to the resources of the State means that the electoral process is being developed in a context of high distortion that, without a doubt, alters the fairness in the electoral competition, given that irregular public financing is the prevailing practice,” states the report.
The Voting Boards, which open and close voting centers and count votes, are also a potential breeding ground for fraud. In the past, blank credentials have been given to the parties, which led to “credential trafficking,” the practice of buying other parties’ credentials to stack the boards with loyalists.
This year, a legislative reform required the parties to send a list of their representatives to avoid this practice, but the parties have not sent their lists, reported Honduran media outlet Expediente Público on Nov. 18.
Facing the Music
Although he’s not on the ballot, President Hernández may be the person with the most at stake during these elections. He faces the possibility of extradition to the U.S. after being named as co-conspirator in a drug trafficking case in a New York court that convicted his brother Tony Hernández.
In the weeks before elections, he has traveled to Nicaragua and Taiwan, and rumors abound in Honduras about his plans after leaving office. His administration was the only in Central America, aside from Belize, to not sign onto the OAS condemnation of the recent election results in Nicaragua, where two former presidents of El Salvador accused of corruption received political asylum in recent years.
“Without a win for the Nationalists at the polls, Hernández is likely to find himself isolated, legally exposed and with diminishing options for protecting himself from prosecution in the U.S.,” writes Crisis Group in a recent report about the Honduran elections.
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