Honduras - Political Parties
Honduras traditionally would have been characterized as a two-party system with an average Effective Number of Parties (ENP) of 2.1 during the period 1957-1993. Beginning in 1997, however, the year of the first election with separate ballots, the ENP increased to 2.2, which it has continued to do in subsequent elections, reaching a value of 2.4 in the 2005 election. In other words, Honduras is no longer a two-party system but is trending toward a two-and-a-half party system, and one which is likely to experience further splintering in the future, given the large pool of recently de-aligned individuals.
Although vehicles for channeling political conflict, political scientists have long argued that stable party systems are an important component of stable democracies. Renewal of party systems – via the replacement of certain parties with others – may also be essential to the longterm stability of democracies. Honduras appears to sit poised on a threshold of change in its party system, and it is unclear whether a newly reconstituted party system will emerge, whether the country will devolve into a far less structured party system, or whether the traditional parties can reassert their hold on the psychological loyalties of Honduran citizens.
The two major parties are the slightly left-of-center Liberal Party and the slightly-right-of-center National Party. The three much smaller registered parties -- the Christian Democratic Party, the Innovation and Social Democratic Unity Party, and the Democratic Unification Party -- hold a few seats each in the Congress, but have never come close to winning the presidency. The terms “liberal” and “conservative” carry very little substantive connotation in Honduras. Liberales and Nacionalistas do not differ in terms of ideology.
In this regard, the traditional Honduran parties bear a resemblance to Liberal and Conservative parties elsewhere in Latin America. These parties were among the first to emerge in the 1800s, in large measure in response to conflict over the proper role of church and state. By the 20th Century, the issues originally dividing Liberal and Conservative parties had disappeared, and in many polities, such as the Chilean system, both had been superceded by the emergence of a variety of reformist parties, such as the Christian Democrats, or potentially revolutionary parties, such as the Socialists or Communists, even further to the left. The “default value” in the year 2000 and beyond would be for Liberal and Conservative parties to have “little ideological content” in most countries of the Americas.
The Liberal and Nacional candidates show no statistically significant difference in terms of the ideology of their supporters but instead compete for the middle ideological ground among Honduran voters, which is toward the right of center. Voter ideological preferences deviate most strongly from the center for the presidential candidates of small parties (PDCH, PINU, UD). However, the very small number of supporters of such parties in the survey does not allow for the uncovering of significant differences, except for the PINU which is statistically significantly to the left of the major parties.
A considerable degree of party de-alignment was experienced by Hondurans between the 2001 and 2005 presidential elections. In 2001, approximately 15% of the individuals interviewed reported no party identification. By contrast, in 2006, the percent of individuals without party identification grew to 55%; an astounding increase of 360 percent in only five years. This chapter will, therefore, reexamine this phenomenon in an effort to corroborate the prior findings of 2006 and to extend the prior analysis to examine the potential effects of party de-alignment on creating a culture supportive of stable democracy.
The real winners of partisan realignment are the small parties (PINU, PDCH, UD), for which party identifications (collectively) have grown from 1.8% to 5.6% over the two years 2006-2008. This level of affiliation is still far too small to indicate any real chance to win the next presidential election, even were they all working in alliance together. Nonetheless, small parties have benefitted from a steady increase in votes received for deputies to the Legislature. Hondurans have been increasingly voting for the small parties since the legislative elections of 1997.
Such extensive partisan dealignment (and the beginnings of a potential partisan realignment) calls for an examination of other potential consequences, besides the fragmentation of the Honduran political system. Among other possible consequences of party dealignment would be voting abstention. Traditionally, political parties have been vehicles for mobilizing voters to participate on election day. If the numbers of aligned partisan are down – and down dramatically – one might expect voting turnout also to decline.
Honduras essentially had two dominant political parties, the PNH and the PLH, for most of this century, with the military allying itself with the PNH for an extended period beginning in 1963. The PLH was established in 1891 under the leadership of Policarpo Bonilla Vasquez and had origins in the liberal reform efforts of the late nineteenth century. The PNH was formed in 1902 by Manuel Bonilla as a splinter group of the PLH. Between 1902 and 1948, these two parties were the only officially recognized parties, a factor that laid the foundation for the currently entrenched PNH (red) and PLH (blue) two-party system. In the early 1990s, the internal workings of the two traditional political parties appeared to be largely free of military influence. Since the country returned to civilian rule in 1982, the military has not disrupted the constitutional order by usurping power as it did in 1956, 1963, and 1972, and it no longer appears to favor one party over the other as it did with the PNH for many years.
There appear to be few ideological differences between the two traditional parties. The PLH, or at least factions of the PLH, formerly espoused an antimilitarist stance, particularly because of the PNH's extended alliance with the military. The two PLH presidencies of the 1980s, however, appeared to end the PLH's antipathy toward the military.
The PLH dominated the elections of 1980, 1981, and 1985, at times capturing departments considered PNH bulwarks (Choluteca and Valle), whereas the PNH crushed the PLH in the 1989 elections, winning all but two departments, one the traditional PLH stronghold of El Paraiso. By 1985 there were five different factions of the PLH. Alipo had split with the Reina brothers to form the Revolutionary Liberal Democratic Movement (Movimiento Liberal Democratico Revolucionario—MLider), which represented a more strongly antimilitary platform, and another faction led by newspaper publisher Jaime Rosenthal retained the Alipo banner. The PLH was not as successful as the PNH in achieving party unity for the 1989 elections. The PLH candidate, Carlos Flores Facusse, had survived a bruising four-candidate party primary in December 1988 in which he received 35.5 percent of the total vote. As noted by Julio Navarro, Flores was an extremely vulnerable candidate because in the primary he did not win major urban areas or departments considered PLH strongholds.
Carlos Flores was President of Honduras 1998-2002 and elder statesman of the Liberal Party, Honduras's largest political party. Flores also publishes one of the country's major daily newspapers, "La Tribuna," which was critical of Zelaya's presidency. Zelaya views him as a political rival and obstacle to his plans to transform the Liberal Party. Little happened in Honduran politics without Flores knowing about it. Still, he claimed he had no advance knowledge of the 28 June 2009 coup, even though the decree and analysis that coup defenders cite as proof of Zelaya's intent to dissolve Congress and convene a constituent assembly following his constitutional reform opinion poll appeared the morning of the coup in "La Tribuna." Since the coup, Flores quietly sought to promote dialogue among key players to resolve the political crisis. Since at it's heart the crisis was a feud within the Liberal Party, he was extremely well placed.
Two significant factors helped bring about the success of the PNH in the 1989 elections: the cohesiveness and unity of the PNH and the disorder and internal factionalism of the PLH. The PLH has had a tradition of factionalism and internal party disputes. In the early 1980s, there were two formal factions: the conservative Rodista Liberal Movement (Movimiento Liberal Rodista—MLR), named for deceased party leader Modesto Rodas Alvarado and controlled by Roberto Suazo Cordova; and the center-left Popular Liberal Alliance (Alianza Liberal del Pueblo—Alipo), founded by brothers Carlos Roberto Reina Idiaques and Jorge Arturo Reina Idiaques.
Ricardo Maduro was Zelaya's immediate predecessor as President of Honduras (2002-2006) and elder statesman of the National Party. Maduro is well respected among the White Team and within the Honduran and international business community. Maduro has sworn to the Ambassador that he had no foreknowledge of the 28 June 2009 coup. However, most of his party strongly supported Zelaya's removal, more so than the ruling Liberal Party, which is split over the issue. But Maduro is a man of considerable intellect and strategic vision who can be persuaded that a political compromise that restores the consitutional order was in Honduras's, and therefore the National Party's, best interest.
Since Honduras 's return to civilian democratic rule in the 1980s, two small centrist political parties, Pinu and the PDCH, have participated in regular national presidential and legislative elections. Neither party, however, has challenged the political domination of the two traditional parties. Both parties have received most of their support from urban centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Choluteca, and La Ceiba. In the presidential elections of 1981, 1985, and 1989, Pinu received 2.5 percent, 1.4 percent, and 1.8 percent, respectively, and the PDCH received 1.6 percent, 1.9 percent, and 1.4 percent. Both parties presented presidential candidates for the 1993 national elections.
The Opposition Alliance, formed for the 2017 elections, is a coalition of three parties: Libre, the Anti-Corruption Party, known as PAC, and the Innovation and Unity Party, known as PINU. Libre is a conglomeration of “trade union and LGBT activists, human rights defenders, campesino and Indigenous organisations, youth and feminist groups, teachers and intellectuals as well as former Liberals who opposed the coup.” PAC drives an anti-corruption and transparency campaign.
The Opposition Alliance has the support and participation of socialists, social democrats and centrists who want to defeat the PNH monopoly on power. Importantly, the Opposition Alliance represents the first time that center-left parties in Honduras had coalesced to run the same candidates on the same platform.
The coalition is bringing together activists and everyday people who insist on a functional government and want to get rid of corruption and impunity. It is expected to garner at least 22 percent of votes, some of the most competitive numbers for leftists in Honduran history. The Opposition Alliance platform consists of a 10-point plan to redirect the country. Most importantly, the coalition wants to call a referendum for the public to vote on a National Constituent Assembly and to create a United Nations-backed anti-corruption and political transparency commission, much like the one established in Guatemala.
Here’s their 10-point plan:
- Refoundation of the Democratic state, which includes the eradication of corruption and a National Constituent Assembly.
- Construction of an alternative economic model focused on dignified work.
- Strengthening of security and safety in the country, using a community-run model.
- Social development in the areas of education, healthcare, culture, arts and sports.
- Human rights for women, youth and “vulnerable populations.”
- Sustainable energy and environmental regulations.
- International relations based on mutual respect
- Infrastructure, sanitation and clean water.
- Maritime and agriculture reforms (land for campesinos, fishers).
- Forestation and planting of trees.
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