Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And They're Off: Honduran Presidential Campaign Begins

San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa are festooned with vast quantities of political campaign signs this morning as Monday marked the official start of the campaign to elect a new president, congress, and 298 municipal governments.  These signs encode the party they represent through the use of colors:  red and black for Libre, yellow and red for the Democratic Unification Party, blue for the National Party, red and white for the Liberal Party, and so on.

In the most recent poll by Paradigma, Xiomara Castro maintains her lead (although almost half the electorate expressed no support for any of the declared candidates):

Xiomara Castro                19.8%
Juan Hernandez               16.7%
Mauricio Villeda                 7.0%
Salvador Nasralla               6.2%
Andres Pavon                     0.6%
Romeo Vasquez                  0.4%
Jorge Aguilar                      0.2%
Orle Solis                           0.2%
Not reporting/Not Stated    17.5%
None of the Above             31.4%

The poll,  of 2,429 individuals in 16 departments in Honduras between July 16 and July 30, has a margin of error of 2%.  Some Honduran press sources inflated Hernandez' numbers in publishing the results, rounding him up to 17% (or more).

While candidates have, so far, said little of substance, here's a list of eight presidential candidates and the positions they've adopted:

1. Juan Orlando Hernandez - National Party.  Political pundits, who uniformly dismiss the new political parties, consider him the candidate to beat.  Hernandez championed the new military police, and has indicated that we should expect more militarization of the police should he win office.  He's been an advocate of privatization of government resources and income streams during his term as head of Congress.

2. Mauricio Villeda - Liberal Party.  After nearly half of the Liberal party left to form Libre, that left a power vacuum which was filled by the extremely conservative wing of the party, typified by the leader of the coup-installed de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, and Mauricio Villeda. Villeda has come out against corruption, and for more extradition of Hondurans involved in international organized crime.  He's against gay marriage in Honduras.  Villeda promised change in 15 years, well beyond his term limit.  Most of Villeda's attention has been on disparaging Libre and Xiomara Castro.  Villeda, third in the polls, unlike Hernandez and Castro has not seen his popularity increase in the last six months.

3. Salvador Nasralla - Anti-Corruption Party.  He's told the business community in Honduras that he believes in free enterprise, but also in them paying their taxes.  Nasralla, on being asked to sign an agreement to abide by the results of the election implied he would call the electorate to insurrection should there be indications of widespread fraud.  Nasralla has intimated that election credentials were being traded and sold, causing the legal representative of PAPH (another new party, started by former Armed Forces commander Romeo Vasquez Velasquez) to demand he prove his accusations.  Nasralla has advocated for the military to return to their barracks and to cease any policing role.

4. Xiomara Castro - Partido de Libertad y Refundación. (LIBRE),  Castro would continue with the assistance programs to poor families begun under the Lobo Sosa administration.  But instead of continuing with the neo-liberal economic policies that have been dismantling the Honduran economy and leading to greater inequality and poverty, she proposes economic policies that would dismantle the monopolies created in the last 20 years and provide equal access to capital, both from private banks, and from the government.  In addition she's open to and welcomes foreign investment and technology transfer, as long as it respects Honduran sovereignty and laws.  She would re-implement the technology bonds meant to allow campesinos to modernize their farming techniques, originally introduced under José Manuel Zelaya.  Most of all, she emphasizes that this is not a campaign about leftists and rightists:
"Those that supported the coup d'etat, the constitutional crisis, the destruction of the rule of law, the destruction of democracy accusing us of being communists and radical leftists are the only ones interested in ideologically polarizing this campaign.....We of Libre, represent exactly the opposite."
This is a swipe at Hernandez, Vasquez, and Villeda, all of whom have been accusing her of being a radical leftist who is going to bring communism into Honduras.  Castro advocated that the military be returned to their barracks and cease their policing duties.

5. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez - Honduran Patriotic Alliance (PAPH) - Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, retired head of the armed forces of Honduras and a leader of the 2009 coup, is running with a promise to provide security and halt illegal activity. He says he's running to prevent chaos and bloodshed in the country.  Vasquez was mocked during the signing of an accord to protect human rights with catcalls of "murderer" by members of two other new parties, FAPER and Libre, which caused him to claim they disrespected him and to ask what happened to human rights for those who aren't leftist.

6. Andres Pavon - Frente Amplio Político Electoral en Resistencia (FAPER) and the Unificación Democratica Party (UD).  Pavon told the Cortés Chamber of Commerce that he is for jobs, security, and dialogue.  Pavon is vocally in favor of gay marriage.  He proposed small hydroelectric dams to improve electricity generation without the population displacement and investment needed for larger projects.  He is a proponent of biodiesel to decrease Honduran imports of petroleum.  Pavon agrees with the current Plan de la Nacion (a 20 year set of goals created under the current government) but proposes they need to be updated with participatory socialism (or what got Zelaya overthrown).

7. Orle Solis - Christian Democrats. Solis has promised to modernize the government and especially to bring government aid to modernizing agricultural production.  She also promised to reduce migration to the cities

8. Jorge Aguilar - Partido de Innovación y Unidad Social Demócrata (PINU).  Aguilar promised to reduce the government deficit from 13% to 3% in 2014 by making government more efficient and modern.  He proposes that there's more government income to be had simply from improving collections of taxes (something the current government has not been able to do, leaving an estimated 40% in the hands of businesses).  Aguilar also emphasized security.

There you have it. Eight candidates, nine parties, four of them new, with the lead close between the traditional party in power and the most populist of the new parties. Under Honduran law, the top vote recipient becomes the president: no run off needed, no minimum level of popular support.

The next three months should be interesting...

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