Sunday, November 26, 2017

Electoral coverage: Part one

At the New York Times, Elizabeth Malkin continues to provide some of the best informed coverage of Honduras in the English language media. Her story on the election lays out clearly the reasons many Hondurans are unhappy with this election, and think it is already stolen: the approval of re-election by a Supreme Court a majority of whose justices owe their office to the current president's actions when he was head of Congress; "reforms" of election processes that give that president's party more control over ballot counting; and the public and notorious evidence of corrupt practices by the same party in the last election.

Meanwhile, Reuters provides what purports to be a simple comparison of the proposed policies of the National Party and Alianza candidates for president. It's textbook example of how to make a selective case without seeming to have an opinion. Start with the characterization of Juan Orlando Hernández as US-friendly and approved by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The implication would be that Salvador Nasralla and the Alianza are somehow anti-US. That's not really the difference between the two parties: Honduran political parties all want good relations with the US. What the National Party provides, though, is a willing partner in militarization of policing in Honduras that some US policy makers think is a key to ending drug trafficking (or at least diminishing it). Hernández also has accepted US characterization of undocumented migration to the US as his country's problem, leading him to militarize the borders to stop people fleeing violence in the cities and drug-dominated areas.

Reuters pairs the pro-US characterization of Hernández with a description of the Alianza as supposedly dominated by former president Mel Zelaya, saying "many believe" Zelaya is the "true force" behind the Alianza. This echoes the line taken by the National Party in an attempt to discourage voters in Honduras from supporting the opposition. It ignores the reality that Salvador Nasralla is the Alianza candidate because his insurgent party, the Partido Anti-corrupcíon, ran strongly in the 2013 election. Nasralla leads his own political movement, and the fact that what were competing parties in 2013 have now joined forces is a testament to the common goals of Libre and PAC: removing power from the traditional parties seen as corrupt bastions of an oligarchy.

Reuters also reports that polls show Hérnandez leading. They don't identify the polls, or give a link. Three polling companies were approved to do polls by the Honduran electoral tribunal, a new practice that narrowed the data stream when compared to 2013. One of the approved companies is the consultant used by the National Party. Legally, none of them are allowed to poll after September, so any polls from these official sources would be stale. Private polling done by the parties might be available, but legally, they also cannot share any such information.

One effect of published claims that Hernández has an established lead, of course, is to give his election an aura of inevitability. That could hamper efforts already promised by both the Alianza and the Liberal Party (the traditional opposition, depleted in the wake of the 2009 coup and fourth in votes for presidency in 2013) to contest any hint of fraud.

There are already reports from Honduras of intimidation of poll watchers. Some international observers have been refused entry into the country.

TeleSur has a worthwhile infographic showing voting results based on exit polling. So far, Hernández is getting fewer votes than the last published polls, while the Liberal party candidate is drawing significantly more votes.

Obviously, we have no idea which parts of the country this exit polling reflects. But the present numbers show, again, the National Party falling far below a majority, with the number of votes going to the Alianza and Liberal parties together surpassing the National Party vote.

Because of Honduran law, a plurality of votes, no matter how low, will win the office. It will be important to watch how international media report the results: a minority win should not be portrayed as legitimating the National Party. And equally, the international press needs to cover what happens after this election, how complaints are treated, and not accept the deterioration of public trust as somehow inevitable.

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