Fraud Could Deny Honduran Voters' Apparent Rejection of Unpopular Incumbent President

Posted Nov. 29, 2017

MP3 Interview with Alex Main, senior associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

honduras

Pollsters and pundits had predicted that the Honduras’ Nov. 26 presidential election would maintain the status quo, with incumbent conservative president Juan Orlando Hernandez easily winning re-election. But it appears that voters had a different outcome in mind. Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla, one of the nation’s best-known television personalities, was holding a 5-point lead over Hernandez before the nation’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal stopped announcing vote totals with 57 percent of the ballots counted. Both candidates have claimed victory.

The tribunal’s decision to freeze the public vote count the day after the election generated suspicion that attempts were being made to manipulate the outcome. Nasralla ran as the candidate of the Alliance Against Dictatorship, a coalition formed with the leftist party of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a U.S.-supported military coup in 2009.

Hernandez, a close ally of Washington, had been widely criticized for engineering the Supreme Court’s override of the Honduran Constitution's ban on consecutive presidential terms, widespread corruption, human rights violations and the assassination of environmental activists, including Goldman prizewinner Berta Cáceres. Between The Line’s Scott Harris spoke with Alex Main, senior associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, who assesses what may be a surprise outcome of the Honduran election and the danger of another military coup. [Rush transcript.]

ALEX MAIN: Nasralla is sort of a figure who is on the center-right. It's not very clear. He's not very clearly defined politically because he hasn't really had much of a political career. He first ran for president in 2013. Before that, he'd never held an elected office. In 2013, he ran on basically an anti-corruption platform and in fact, the name of this party is "The Anti-Corruption Party."

He did get a good amount of votes, especially for a first-time candidate in those elections. And afterwards, he sort of formed an informal alliance with the Libre party, which is a left-leaning party that is really sort of an off-shoot of the movement of resistance to Honduras' 2009 coup. And so your listeners may remember that there was a military coup d'etat against Manuel Zelaya at the time. He was forced out of power at gunpoint, shipped off to Costa Rica and in the meantime you had a great deal of repression in Honduras.

But also, you had a huge movement, massive protests and a very organized movement that opposed the coup and that wanted to see as well a constituent assembly to sort of reform what a lot of people saw as a very rotten political system in Honduras. And out of this movement sprung a new political party which included a lot of members of a traditional party from the left-wing, the Liberal party. And that party was formed in 2011, and the head of that is the deposed president from 2009, President Manuel Zelaya. And so, that party is called Libre, or "Freedom," and it joined in alliance with the Nasralla's party, the anti-corruption party.

A few people thought they would be successful in part because the private media was universally against them, and favorable to the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the National party – which is very pro-military, very conservative and really the biggest beneficiary of the coup politically and because of Juan Orlando Hernandez's really complete control over the institutions, in particular the courts, and within the court system, the electoral authority and the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal). It was believed that if Nasralla had any chance of winning, fraud would take place and it does seem that fraud probably has taken place, but that the margin of victory of Nasralla was so great that fraud couldn't really make that difference.

But now, the big question is whether this coalition, which includes this left-wing party and this center-right party is going to hold together. Because they do indeed have different political programs and it will be interesting to see if in fact, Nasralla does end up being the winner of these elections. And we still have to wait for the TSE to announce the final results. There's still a possibility of fraud occurring, but if that occurs, what sort of Cabinet is he going to have, and what Cabinet positions are Libre going to have? And what was he going to have? And also what would be the results of the congressional elections because those have taken place as well as the TSE has announced really very few results for the congressional races and if this coalition doesn't have a majority in Congress, it's going to be very difficult for them to govern.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What is the danger in your estimation of another military coup at the hands of the Honduran army? A second part of that question would be, what is the U.S. role here in this election if any, under the Trump administration given the history of U.S. backing under the Obama administration for the 2009 coup?

ALEX MAIN: Those are two excellent questions and I think they're very, very linked. And that is because the U.S. provides a lot of training and lot of equipment and financial support to the Honduran security forces. When you ask whether or not there's a possibility of a military coup, I would say that there is, certainly – especially, as the military is very opposed to the Libre party with Nasrallas' victory – which can potentially be back in power in the government and the military won't want to see that, and they may act again as they acted in 2009 to prevent that from happening.

But there, of course, the U.S. has a tremendous amount of leverage in terms of their relationship with the Honduran military. It's often said in Honduras that no election result becomes official without the U.S. embassy basically recognizing the results of the election.

For more information, visit The Center of Economic and Policy Research at cepr.net; and Alex Main's page at cepr.net/about-us/staff/alexander-main-senior-associate-international-policy.

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