Friday, November 1, 2013

A Brief Over-Simplification of Honduran Politics

We dropped into Honduras right as the Presidential race was beginning to heat up. It’s now a month before the election and things seem even crazier than they were two months ago. With the acknowledgment that I am a North American student whose Honduran political knowledge is younger than some of the food in the back of your fridge, I present to you… a gross oversimplification of the 2013 Presidential race.

Historically, Honduras has had two political parties: the Liberal and the National. People compare their ideologies respectively to the Democrat and Republican parties of the United States, but it’s also widely acknowledged that the two parties are functionally the same.

The regular exchange of National and Liberal candidates was halted in 2009 with a coup to oust then-President Mel Zelaya, a Liberal candidate who made waves partially by trying to pass movements that would allow himself to be reelected. Zelaya was replaced by an interim President, Micheletti, until the current Presidential term started.

In 2010, the National candidate Pepe Lobo became President. I don’t know enough to tell you if he’s been good or bad for Honduras, but I do know enough to tell you his name means “Baby bottle Wolf” in Spanish. In case you wanted to impress anyone with some Honduran trivia.

The 2009 coup was hugely controversial, with the country split between supporting it and protesting it. Zelaya, who was marginally popular before, actually gained popularity after being ousted. But one of the biggest changes the coup caused was the end of the two-party system. There have always been third-party candidates, but this year, the race is between four candidates from four different parties. Here, the who’s who in the 2013 Presidential election:
Juan Orlando Hernandez is from the National Party, and is the current President of Congress. Though Hondurans will openly admit that all politicians are corrupt, Juan Orlando is seen to be particularly shady. He has a massive amount of money to spend on his campaign that is coming from somewhere and as a result, posters of his face hang from almost every telephone post in the country.

Mauricio Villeda is the Liberal Party’s representative. We met him at a debate, where he chatted with us in English and shared a story about ordering a hamburger in Ann Arbor. People consider him the most honest candidate, but also, perhaps one of the weaker. Charisma is not his strong point. “He might make a good President,” someone told me, “but he’s a terrible candidate.” He also suffers from the new weakness of the Liberal party that comes from…
Xiomara Castro. The wife of Mel Zelaya, who has no previous political experience outside of being first lady, formed her own party after the coup. The Libre party, a splinter of the Liberal party, is now nearly as strong or stronger than the two historic parties. Stop and think for a moment how crazy that is. Imagine a strong personality from the Democrat Party forming her own party and within three years having a chance to win. Xiomara has found her place farther left than the Liberal party, and appeals to low-wage workers, teachers, and other people desperate for change.

The fourth player is Salvador Nasralla, better known for being a beloved sports announcer and the host of a Sunday morning game show. He jumped on the small Anti-Corruption party, and the strength of his name has won him more followers than he otherwise might have. Again, stop for a moment to ponder this. The best analogy I can think of is that guy who always announces the Olympics. Bob Costas for President, 2016?

With 30% of the population currently undecided, it’s still anyone’s game. Polls show Xiomara and Juan Orlando near-tied with Villeda a close third, but at this point polls are partly speculation. What is certain is that no one candidate is going to get more than a third of the vote, meaning an election were the majority voted against the winner. (This doesn’t only happen in the States, I guess!)

It’s a huge privilege to be right here in the middle of this, meeting the players that are going to affect Honduras over the next four years. We’ll be right here watching the voting and, even more interestingly, the results. No matter what happens, this is a historic election for Honduras. And now that you’re (at least a little bit) informed, you can turn your eyes this way and follow along with us!

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