On 26 November, Honduras will hold a hotly-disputed general election to decide, among many other things, the fate of its current president, Juan Orlando Hernández.

More than six million registered voters will head to the polls to elect a president, three vice-presidents, 128 national parliament delegates, 20 members of the Central American parliament, and 298 local mayors.

Hernández has been in power since 2014 and is seeking reelection, despite the Honduran constitution prohibiting a second consecutive term. However, a controversial 2015 Supreme Court ruling made an exception for him, allowing him to run again.

Reelection is a contentious issue in Honduras. President José Manuel Zelaya was removed from office on 28 June 2009 by a military coup d’état as he sought a second consecutive term. Eight years after Zelaya was unceremoniously dethroned, in what The Economist dubbed ‘Latin America’s last coup’ – and amid allegations of US support for the military – the issue has arisen once more.

Juan Orlando Hernández smiles president of Honduras.
Juan Orlando Hernández is bidding for a contentious reelection, based on little more than a disputed supreme court ruling that contradicts the Honduran constitution. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The contenders

Hernández is joined in the presidential race by two other candidates: television presenter and sports commentator Salvador Nasralla, and newcomer Luis Zelaya, an academic running for the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party). According to a September poll published by Cid Gallup, Hernández was the frontrunner with 37%, while Nasralla and Zelaya had 22% and 17% respectively.

Presidential hopeful Salvador Nasralla is a colourful character. He bragged in a 2016 interview that at 63 years of age he had slept with more than 700 women, and ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2013, although he initially refused to accept the result.

In contrast, Luis Zelaya is a more peripheral figure who prefers to keep a low profile. He earned his degree in Mexico, and was a university rector before beginning his journey into politics.

Salvador Nasralla smiles before Honduras election
The colourful Salvador Nasralla will compete for the presidency with Luis Zelaya and incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández, who is seeking reelection. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

International observers

As the election comes with the polemic subtext of reelection, and considering the controversy surrounding the democratic integrity of the last general elections held in Honduras, the 2017 vote shall be the subject of intense international scrutiny.

On 30 October, the deputy chief of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) electoral observation mission, Gerardo Sánchez, arrived in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, to make preparations for a team of 81 experts to oversee the election.

The delegation includes several Latin American ex-presidents, who will arrive in the country on 21 November, five days before the election is held: Bolivia’s Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002), Ricardo Lagos of Chile (2000-2006) and Guatemala’s Álvaro Colóm (2008-2012).

On 23 October, Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced that it had also held a “very productive” meeting with a European Union delegation headed by European Parliament member and 2016 Portuguese presidential candidate, Marisa Matías.

Democracy reinforced?

According to David Matamoros, the leader of Honduras’ Supreme Electoral Tribunal, all of those invited were “people who know Honduras well, [and] who are putting democracy in place in our country.”

Alongside the OAS’ observational team, Matamoros announced that the Honduran business association, Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (Cohep), has also invited ex-presidents Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica (2010-2014), Mexico’s Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006); and ex-Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Zapatero (2004-2011), to oversee the electoral process.

While much of the OAS’ attention has been dedicated to handling the aftermath of the recent regional elections and ongoing crisis in Venezuela, a press release stated that its delegation in Honduras shall pay particular attention to the preparation and dissemination of electoral materials, and the registration and credentials of vote counters and volunteers.

Reelection debate reanimated?

With a little under a month to go until the 26 November election, voter intention can still change. The opposition alliance deems Hernández’s reelection bid illegal, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Honduran public agree.

However, the main talking point will be the transparency of the election. If things go smoothly, then Honduras will hope to be able to put its previous struggles and murmurings of corruption behind it. If the polls are correct and Hernández wins, however, then a bitter fight to recognise the legitimacy of a leader who is not backed by the constitution is likely to recommence.



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