Monday, December 25, 2017

Party politics in Honduras, post 2017

While the OAS has not recognized the outcome of the presidential election, Juan Orlando Hernández is proceeding as if the election is settled. Meanwhile, media and political observers from outside Honduras have pivoted to critiques of Salvador Nasralla, Manuel Zelaya, or both for supposedly playing their cards the wrong way, and for the actions each is taking now.

This seems entirely misguided to us. It is worth noting that there was never a chance that Hernández would concede that the election was fraudulent. We doubt that he would have done anything even if the US placed pressure on him, beyond what he is doing: calling for a national "dialogue" that, as in his previous dialogues, is controlled by him and excludes those who view him as corrupt and illegitimate.

Given that reality, it is worth emphasizing that having the officially reported election results come in so close was surprising, and probably not just to those of us watching from outside. Poll tallies that came in as paper documents and were not scanned at the election site appear to have been manipulated. But those transmitted directly as scans allowed the popularity of opposition to Hernández to show clearly.

Which brings us to the next steps: what is happening, and what should we make of it?

Much is being made of the fact that Nasralla and Zelaya are proceeding separately. International commentators seem to be fascinated with the personality issues involved, and ignore the fact that the Alianza was not a party. It was formed under Honduran electoral law that allows for alliances.

Technically, the Alianza joined two existing parties: Libre and PINU. The party founded by Nasralla, PAC (Partido Anti-corrupción), was originally supposed to form part of the Alianza as well.

However, PAC was taken over in May by dissidents, after the TSE declared their original primary null and void on a technicality. The Honduran press described this situation as a mess. As reports published outside Honduras made clear, this culminated a move by a faction in PAC that was tied to the Partido Nacional.

So in the aftermath of the November election, Nasralla has no party affiliation. He has announced that he is starting over again, pushing for a fuerza nacional-- a national political movement, which in Honduras is a first step to forming a party. Nasralla specifically called for participation by "the Alianza that gave him the electoral triumph"
which will be expanded with all the other sectors of the country that oppose the dictatorship such as the people who have demonstrated in the streets, workers, the church, honest businessmen, unions, the Partido Liberal, and the youth that always accompanied him.
This is playing a long game, looking forward to the next election in 2021. It represents a calculated attempt to broaden his original constituency, appealing to the remnants of the Liberal Partido, which came in third in the national presidential race, but also inviting people who may have supported the Alianza but be less comfortable with Libre's strong social democratic agenda.

Nasralla doesn't really have any other choice if he wants to influence the political future. There is no "Alianza" party of which he might be called the leader in Congress. The shell of PAC, led by his rival, managed to win 1 seat in congress (with less than 1% of the vote nationally). In fact, even in the 2013 elections, PAC only gained 13 seats in the congress. It was always a presidential movement, created by a prominent and visible person, but not anything like a traditional party.

The stakes are different for Zelaya. With the end of the presidential campaign, he returns to his position as leader of Libre. Libre is a party that was built by experienced politicians, and includes a substantial national congressional presence. Libre won 30 seats in Congress (with 23% of the vote nationally). That's a net gain of two seats.

Libre actually overtook what remains of the Partido Liberal, which saw its congressional delegation shrink from 33 to 26 (with 20% of the national vote). The Liberal Party continues to work through the aftermath of the 2009 coup, which was led by one faction within the party against the sitting president from the same party. When Zelaya created Libre, many progressives that formerly were Partido Liberal members followed him.

One of the dynamics to watch is what will become of the remains of the Liberal Party. Luis Zelaya, the candidate for president, was an unexpected choice, a university professor with no history of political office holding. Part of his motivations for seeking office parallel those that guided Nasralla: the corruption scandal in the Honduran social services agency, IHSS. He also was moved by the extra-judicial killing of a university student.

Luis Zelaya shocked most observers when he supported the assertion by Nasralla that the Alianza candidate was the real winner of the contest. He has remained firm on this point. That has led to calls from within what his supporters call the lado oscuro or Dark Side of the party for his removal from his leadership of the party. Zelaya has openly accused those calling for his removal of being in a "perverse" coalition with the Partido Nacional.

Back in early 2015, Mauricio Villeda, then leader of the Liberal Party, was part of the first agreement to oppose the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernández. As recently as this spring, political strategists in Honduras were writing about his chances of leading a three-party alliance in the presidential race.

Which brings us to the next four years. If the Partido Liberal follows Zelaya, and he and his congressional delegation coordinate with Libre, they would form a voting bloc of 56 members, facing the Partido Nacional's 61 (based on a national vote of just under 48%).  This is enough on its own to block some of the constitutional moves that have been a staple of Hernández' consolidation of power.

And they could do more, with sufficient focus. The remaining 11 seats in Congress went to minority parties. The remnant PAC is suspected of being a National Party adherent. Other small parties that were floated as potential participants in a National Party alliance were the PUD, PDCH, FAPER and Vamos.

Only the first two of these political movements had seats in the previous congress, holding a total of five. PUD held on to its seat, but the PDCH lost three, ending up with a single seat. That brings the total votes that normally follow Hernández automatically to 63. This is two less than a majority in the 128 seat congress.

Adding the 4 congressional seats won by PINU to those of Libre, with which it formed the Alianza, would point to a core opposition of 34 votes. If the Partido Liberal under Luis Zelaya can work with Libre and PINU in the next congress on issues where they share concerns, they would still be at a disadvantage, with a total of 60 votes.

The wild card is something called the Partido Alianza Patriotica. It received enough votes in this election to receive 4 seats in congress. It ran the general who carried out the 2009 coup, Romeo Vásquez Velasquez. Not surprisingly, he ran on a tough on crime, support the military platform. In 2013, its first campaign, the party didn't even win a single congressional seat. So there's no history to go on.

And of course, there's the lone Partido Anti-corrupción diputado elected, who just may turn out to have more leverage than expected.


David said...

"In fact, even in the 2013 elections, PAC only gained 3 seats in the congress." Check this - I think PAC won 13 (thirteen) seats.

As for the General, the fact that he was so strongly anti-re-election and anti-JOH may be an indication of where his deputies in the Partido Patriotica Alianza will vote.

However, the predilection for JOH to buy off deputies you didn't mention - and history tells us that greed runs through all political parties.

RAJ said...

Thanks-- that was a typo, now fixed.

I agree with you that the Partido Patriotica Alianza can likely be counted in support of anti-re-election legislation.

Yes, the muted story here is corrupt manipulation of party members once they make it to Congress-- which needs a longer post.

For anyone interested in the potential for Honduras to return to more democratic government, ignoring Congress for the next four years (which has been the mode in previous election cycles) would be a mistake. Presidential elections turn out the way they do because of groundwork laid down in between. The configuration of the TSE, the control of the Corte Supremo, the case brought to challenge the constitutional ban on re-election, all of these stories happened more or less while international media turned their attention away from the country.

But the mobilization that brought out so many voters against JOH, and Nasralla's starting a new fuerza, added to the struggle for the heart of the Partido Liberal, all point to a continuing story that needs to be followed.