Honduras - 2017 Election
Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country last held national and local elections in November 2017. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term beginning in January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections as free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.
Elections in Honduras took place Sunday 26 November 2017 as the Central American country experiences some of the highest rates of crime, corruption, violence and impunity. These circumstances, however, also garnered some of the highest levels of resistance and electoral participation from the left. The presidential and municipal elections also represent a series of “firsts” in the country’s suffrage and political systems. They are the first time a sitting president has been allowed to run for re-election, the first time several center-left parties coalesced to give the entrenched, right-wing National Party of Honduras, PNH, a competitive run, and the first time they would be the most observed and audited in Honduran history.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez considered running for re-election in the 2017 presidential race and was expected to announce his decision in mid-November 2016, even though there was a fierce debate over whether such a move would even be legal, stirring up old wounds of the 2009 coup and the ill-footed reasons Honduran elites cooked up to justify it. This would mark the first time a sitting or former president in Honduras proposed running for a second term after the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional ban on presidential reelection in 2015.
Thousands of frustrated and fed-up Hondurans protested consistently throughout 2015 and 2016 against the multitude of government corruption scandals, human rights violations and sheer unwillingness to create transparency and accountability within institutions. Hernandez allowed the government to create a commission to investigative the country’s staggering levels of crime and impunity.
Hernandez’s term had been rocked by the killings of human rights and environmental activists. By 2016, Hernandez’s 3rd year in office, Honduras recorded the highest number of killings of environmental and land rights activists, most of whom were killed by state security forces or domestic corporations that back Hernandez, and vice versa.
Organized crime skyrocketed during the administrations of former President Porfirio Lobo and Hernandez. Citizens were reportedly forced to pay out US$200 million to Honduran gangs in 2014, or face violence and possible death. Gangs killed 350 bus drivers and public transport workers between 2011 and 2015 and 220 taxi drivers between 2012 and 2015. They regularly burn public buses in the streets of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, in retribution for non-payment. In 2011 and 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, and in 2014, an average of 66 out of every 100,000 residents were killed.
Honduran President Juan Hernandez promised to push for reelection in 2017 even though the National Congress hadn't approved the change in the Constitution that prohibits The President from serving for more than one term. In 2009 a military coup overthrew then president Manuel Zelaya under the pretext that he was looking to change the constitution to allow for reelection. The Coup had the support of the United States and the national business class that are now ironically supporting Hernandez’s reelection push.
President Juan Orlando Hernandez announced 10 November 2016 that he “accepts” the candidacy to run for re-election with his conservative National Party in next year’s presidential race, a move his rivals blasted as unconstitutional. For resistance activists, Hernandez’ candidacy comes as an assault on democracy that rubs salt in the still gaping wounds of the 2009 military coup that ousted former President Manuel Zelaya on the basis of accusations he was trying to seek re-election. Since the coup, the country had seen an escalation in violence and repression, as well as a weakening of democratic insitutions.
The Honduran constitution strictly prohibits presidential re-election, but a convoluted Supreme Court ruling paved the way for Hernandez to run as an incumbent in 2017. In response, LIBRE formed the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship with the small PINU party and anti-corruption crusader Salvador Nasralla, with Nasralla as the alliance candidate.
The term of PNH candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez had been marked by corruption and crime since he first won the presidency in 2013. His election campaign was fraught with corruption and embezzlement as Hernandez and his party reportedly siphoned off US$90 million from the Honduran Social Security Institute to pay for his campaign against candidate Xiomara Castro, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya. In total, the PNH reportedly stole US$300 million from the social security system while Hernandez was president of the Honduran National Assembly.
Hernandez stacked the Supreme Court with PNH supporters in 2012, facilitating the court’s unconstitutional 2015 vote to change the country’s magna carta to allow elected officials to run for a second consecutive term. This is the first election cycle to allow re-election bids, and Hernandez is taking advantage.
Zelaya's left-wing Libre party — born out of the post-coup national resistance movement to break the bipartisan political system and advocate for rewriting the Honduran constitution to “refound” the state — blasted the government’s presidential reelection scheme as unconstitutional, arguing that only the Honduran people had the power to change the constitution. Zelaya, a democratically-elected leftist, was ousted in a U.S.-supported coup in 2009. Honduras’ Supreme Court made the constitutional change and repeatedly rejected appeals against the move. Libre’s candidate for Honduras’ top office will be Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro, who ran as the party’s inaugural candidate in the 2013 election against Hernandez. Her National Party rival won amid widespread complaints of electoral fraud, political repression and corruption in the electoral system.
Hernandez’s main opponent is Salvador Nasralla from the Opposition Alliance. Nasralla is a former Pepsi-Cola executive and television personality, and gathered support from several parties. Nasralla is one of Honduras' best-known faces and backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009. The Opposition Alliance is a coalition of three parties: Libre, the Anti-Corruption Party, known as PAC, and the Innovation and Unity Party, known as PINU. The Guardian described Libre as 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 had the support and participation of socialists, social democrats and centrists who want to defeat the PNH monopoly on power. Importantly, the Opposition Alliance represented the first time that center-left parties in Honduras have coalesced to run the same candidates on the same platform. During the 2013 presidential elections, leftist and anti-corruption factions ran separately. Nasralla ran under his self-formed PAC and won 13.5 percent of the votes. Castro ran with Libre and received 28.7 percent of votes.
This would be the country’s most audited and observed election in history with over 1,500 national and 300 international observers. Citizens voted not only for a president and vice president, but also for 129 National Assembly members and nearly 300 mayors across the country. There were an estimated 30,000 candidates running across the country.
Days before the Honduras election The Economist published a blockbuster article titled “Is Honduras Ruling Party Planning to Rig an Election?” They report “The Economist has obtained a recording that, if authentic, suggests the ruling party had plans to distort results in the upcoming election.”
The two hour recording is from a National Party training session. It details five tactics used to influence election results: buy the credentials of small party delegates who supervise the local polling place, surreptitiously allow National Party voters to vote more than once, spoil the votes for other candidates, damage the tally sheet which favors their opponent so it cannot be transmitted electronically to election headquarters. and expedite the tally sheets favoring their party.
Election official Marcos Ramiro Lobo told Reuters on Monday 27 Nocember 2017 afternoon that Nasralla was leading by a margin of five points, with about 70 percent of ballots counted. About noon on Tuesday 28 Nocember 2017 the TSE resumed posting election results after the 36 hour interruption. The new data showed Nasralla’s lead steadily declining and by Wednesday 29 Nocember 2017 the National Party candidate and current President Juan Orlando Hernandez was edging ahead. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has analyzed the data and determined the abrupt swing in elections results was “next to impossible”.
Hernandez declared himself the winner of elections before official results were announced -- and his top rival did the same. According to Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal [TSE] the preliminary results were: Salvador Nasralla with 855,847, leading with 45.17 percent followed by Juan Orlando Hernandez with 761,872 or 40.21 percent and Luis Zelaya with 260,994 or 13.77 percent with 57 percent of the ballots counted. A Televicentro poll had earlier placed current Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the right-wing National Party in the lead with 43.93 percent of votes, with left-wing candidate Salvador Nasralla of the Opposition Alliance with 34.70 percent and Luis Zelaya Medrano of the Liberal Party with 17.68 percent trailing Hernandez.
The results of the vote in Honduras show that the population expressed their determination to oppose any increased authoritarianism from their president. As a result, if Hernandez resorted to fraudulent practices to steal a reelection, his party “Partido Nacional” single-handedly won both the local and general elections on the same date.
Salvador Nasralla charged on 28 November 2017 that President Juan Orlando Hernandez pressured the TSE to take the victory from the Opposition Alliance. The gap between Salvador Nasralla and the current president Juan Orlando Hernández was reduced, while Hondurans were still waiting for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to issue the final results and proclaim the winner. Nasralla, of the Alliance of Opposition against the dictatorship, fell from 45 to 43.29 percent of the votes, while Hernandez rose to 41.22 percent, with 70.59 percent of the polls counted, according to data from the website of the TSE.
Honduras’ Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla claimed President Hernandez had fled the country, as Hernandez braces to announce a state of emergency to quell increasingly violent protests against delayed presidential-election results.
After the election data transmission system went offline and back on, Hernandez quickly made up the difference and became the official winner amid widespread allegations of election fraud. The country erupted in protests and blockades that lasted for months. The Organization of American States called for new elections. But the US validated the election results, and the military police force Hernandez created spearheaded a violent crackdown. More than 30 protesters and bystanders were shot and killed, according to Honduran human rights groups.
The armed forces of Honduras, meanwhile, appealed for the general population to remain calm as the delayed results of the presidential elections triggered increasingly violent protests. Voters have taken to the streets to demonstrate their anger at the ongoing delays amid widespread accusations of fraud committed by the country’s electoral body.
Honduras suspended the right to free movement on Friday 01 December 2017, imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew and giving the army and police extended powers after looting and protests triggered by a contested election killed at least one person. Five days after polls closed, no clear winner had emerged from Sunday's vote. President Juan Orlando Hernandez had clawed back a thin lead over his challenger, but thousands of disputed votes could still swing the outcome.
Members of the Honduran National Police force, including two of its special military trained forces, the Cobras and Tigres, announced at a press conference 05 December 2017 that they will be on the streets to “protect not repress the Honduran people.” The police units made the announcement to clarify that they are not on strike and that they aren’t interested in higher wages, but are simply refusing to use excessive force on peaceful protesters, as they have been ordered to do by government officials.
Nasralla and the Opposition Alliance demanded a recount of the ballots from all 18,000 polling stations and that the TSE carry out all the opposition’s 11 demands. Matamoros said he would consider the full recount and asked the opposition to put their demand in writing. Candidates have until Dec. 8 to put their demands in writing to challenge official TSE results. An official winner had not been declared. However, according to TSE figures, Hernandez is ahead with 42.98 percent while Nasralla has 41.38 percent of votes. The TSE has counted, at least once, nearly 100 percent of all ballots. By law, the TSE had until Dec. 26 to declare a winner.
Opposition Alliance supporters in Honduras were out on the streets 15 December 2017 in a nationwide protest after presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla and former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya called for the people to begin a “peaceful” and “permanent” national demonstration and labor strike. Military and police forces continued the practice of throwing tear gas into crowds. So far, police and military have killed at least 16 people and wounded over 600 in the several national protests for electoral recounts.
The Electoral Tribunal announced 17 December 2017, the results of the recount, saying presidential candidate and incumbent leader, Juan Orlando Hernandez had won by 1.53 percentage points. However, the OAS electoral observer mission said that though it could not confirm that the election had been “intentionally manipulated," the process was filled with suspicious inconsistencies. The OAS said the only way for the Hondurans to be properly represented and for the victor to reflect the votes of the people would be to conduct a new election that adheres to the strictest measure of the law.
The opposition candidate, Santiago Nasralla, expressed that "It is clear that there was fraud before, during and after the elections. (...) The President of the Republic at this moment is an impostor, and the Honduran people know it ".
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