The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) declared National Party (Partido Nacional) candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez the winner of the Honduran presidential election. But most of the world agrees that there were many irregularities. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations noted that, based on the available evidence, the TSE “cannot say that the process complied with all guarantees.” Some 180 plaintiffs claimed they had been disenfranchised in the election.
Ironically, the candidate of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), Salvador Nasralla, agreed with international observers who said there were no irregularities. On January 21, Nasralla and the administration of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez agreed to an investigation into the vote count. Nasralla also called for the OAS to send a team to Honduras to prepare a report on its findings.
Honduras’ President-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez has largely defended his administration, and he has compared his opponent’s allegation of irregularities to a “witch hunt.”
Take Carlos Cavallera, the mayor of Tegucigalpa. Cavallera is a respected human rights activist with moderate positions on gender equality and cultural and political diversity. Cavallera did not wear the traditional dress of men in a predominantly male city, and he wore his hair in a man bun on some occasions. These are the same clothes that the Partido de Liberación Democrática (GLD) candidate Roberto Micheletti wore to a swearing-in ceremony on January 15, 2019.
Cavallera’s critics within Honduras’ governing class know he faces their wrath. They recall the nature of his involvement in the police department in La Ceiba and blame him for the deaths of leftist students there in October 2015. In some areas of the country, the GLD candidate was unable to campaign for fear of being killed.
It is easy to imagine how the GLD candidate will now fare.
According to Reuters, more than half of voters rejected Micheletti’s candidacy and 50 of the country’s 86 electoral districts went in favor of the GLD candidate. In addition, the police and military were disbanded in November. Honduran polling stations reportedly experienced record-low turnout. Far from an enticement to the GLD candidate to go campaign with him, Micheletti’s current post means he no longer has the ability to unleash the coercive power of the state, thus aiding GLD’s chances to beat Hernandez.
It is a classic case of where the rights of individuals often do not count for much in Honduran politics. The U.S. State Department has repeatedly said that “only certain forms of election expression will be tolerated.” The Honduran government maintains there will be no reprisals against anyone who so much as “participated” in the election. That means each voter will be evaluated individually.
Sadly, that trait of respect for individual liberty, for any Honduran, has contributed to the country’s falling to “emerging conflict” on the UN’s annual Human Development Index. The previous year’s decline was due, in part, to an increase in high-profile murders of political activists, journalists, and lawyers in 2018. It was also due to the desire of many to prevent a situation like the current one in which two rival politicians will not be able to govern the country in concert.
Outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez believes that, because of his administration’s achievements, he will be able to govern in concert with the more moderate position of the new president, Salvador Nasralla. Fears, however, that progress that should have proceeded will be halted in the name of peace should not be dismissed. Much of the region will take note that diversity and legitimacy are not mutually exclusive.
Luis Felipe Perez, a PhD candidate in International and Global Affairs at Georgetown University, is currently working on the Haitian Study Group, with the Center for International Development (CIDH). Perez is also an instructor with The American University School of Foreign Service (UNSFS) Diplomatic Studies Program in Brussels, Belgium. He can be reached at https://xcee.com.