Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Here come the elections 1

On November 24, Hondurans will go the polls to elect a new president, all the members of Congress, and municipal authorities (mayors, etc.)

In previous elections, two parties have dominated the scene – the National Party and the Liberal Party. Both have their roots in the classic liberal theory of the nineteenth century. In the early twentieth century there were serious conflicts between members of both parties, leading in some cases to killings. Partly as a result of this people have had a tendency to adhere passionately to the party of their families.

During most of the twentieth century, except for military coups, political power in Honduras alternated between the two parties. For many reasons, the parties often ruled with a strong patronage system.  Vote for me and I’ll see to your wellbeing. Tammany Hall had little on Honduras.

But something happened in 2009 when the elected President, Mel Zelaya, was overthrown by a coup and escorted out of the country. Zelaya, a Liberal Party president, from a rich cattle-ranching family, moved to embrace more populist positions which made him unpopular with the economic and political elites who ruled Honduras.

Whatever you may think about Zelaya, the coup unleashed something that was unthinkable – the break-up of political system which had assured the sharing of power between the two major parties.

People used to vote for their party, maintaining a devotion that rivaled their adherence to their faith. A friend once said that a Honduran was more likely to change her religion than her political party. 

After the coup, a Resistance movement arose – with a wide participation of people including the traditional left, but not limited to them. It attracted some members of  Zelaya’s Liberal Party as well as indigenous groups, gay and lesbian organizations, as well as many people who were dissatisfied with the system, especially from the poor sectors of the country.

A political party was eventually formed from the Resistance, despite some disagreement from some sectors of the Resistance. I, personally, think the move may have been premature, since it seems to have cut short the important consciousness-raising and organization of the poor that the Resistance and sympathetic organizations had been promoting.

But the LIBRE [Liberty and Refoundation] party was formed and has candidates all over the country. Their presidential candidate is Xiomara Castor, the wife of Zelaya.

The polls show that a large number of people are undecided or refuse to give their opinion, but that Xiomara Castro has – until recently – had a small edge over the National Party candidate, former president of the Honduran national Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández.  The Liberal Party has fallen far behind. A new Anti-Corruption Party has shown some strength, but still behind the two main parties.

What strikes me is that whatever the results of this election, Honduras may be seeing the breakdown of the monopoly of the two parties and the religious adherence of people to their parties.

Various people have commented on this but I saw what I think is an example. Yesterday, in Santa Rosa de Copán, I saw this taxi which has bumper stickers for three different parties – a generic sticker for the Anti-Corruption Party on the Bumper, a sticker for a LIBRE congressional candidate on the trunk, and a sticker for the Liberal Party mayoral candidate on the back window. (I whited out the taxi’s number and license plate to assure anonymity.)

Whatever the results of the elections, this example of someone who is not tied to one party is somewhat hopeful.

We’ll see, in a little more than a month, what actually happens.

If you want good background and coverage of the elections and more, check out the Honduras Culture and Politics blog, here.


Anonymous said...

Good overview, John. I'll have to link to this

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

I think that this might be a small, but significant, change - if it is more than a momentary blip on the political screen here. Real change will take years - if not decades because of the ingrained corrupt system.