Hondurans on Sunday head to the polls in divisive elections that will determine the next president, 128 seats in the unicameral congress and mayors in 298 municipalities.
Despite a constitutional ban on more than one presidential term, incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez has decided to run for a second term, prompting fears of political instability in the electoral aftermath.
DW examines the big questions concerning the elections and how it affects the region and beyond.
Who’s in the race?
- Juan Orlando Hernandez, a conservative politician, assumed office in 2014. Earlier this year, President Hernandez announced he would stand again for the presidency, saying his single four-year mandate did not offer enough time to make substantial changes.
- Salvador Nasralla is a leftist TV anchor-turned politician who has received backing from two opposition parties and other lawmakers under the Opposition Alliance Against Dictatorship banner.
- Luis Zelaya is a middle-of-the-road politician from the right-leaning Liberal Party. Although there are six other candidates in the running, Zelaya and Nasralla are the only politicians in the running closest to frontrunner Hernandez.
President Hernandez (seen in image above) enjoys wide support from Hondurans, according to polls
What are the main issues?
- Gang violence: Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. However, the rate has dropped from a dizzying high of 91.6 per 100,000 people in 2011 to an expected 45 this year, according to UN figures. Hernandez has taken credit for halving it by launching high-profile raids on organized criminal networks and notorious gangs.
- Corruption: Hernandez’s government has been hit by several corruption scandals concerning campaign financing and illicit funds. However, Hernandez has denied having any knowledge of the incidents. Other presidential candidates have accused Hernandez of stacking the judiciary and military with allies.
- Drugs: Honduras is a major gateway for cartels running cocaine from Colombia to streets in North America. In the US-led “War on Drugs,” Hernandez is seen as an ally, with his administration claiming they captured and extradited 14 drug lords and dismantled 150 landing strips used for trafficking.
Will a military coup stop a second-term president?
In 2009, the military sent tanks into the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa and stormed the residence of former President Manuel Zelaya (no relation to the presidential candidate) after he announced his intention to run for a second term.
Current President Hernandez’s conservative National Party backed the military coup, which was later sanctioned by the Honduran Supreme Court. In 2015, that same court ruled that the constitution could not prevent Hernandez from running for a second term after he claimed it violated his human right to do so.
However, analysts don’t expect a re-run of 2009 if Hernandez wins the presidency, partly because he enjoys support among the top ranks of the country’s armed forces.
What about environmental activism?
In October, a team of international legal experts said the murder of Berta Caceres was “not an isolated incident” but instead the “product of a plan” by executives of an energy company spearheading a mega-dam project in the country.
Caceres had organized opposition to the dam with indigenous tribes affected by the project. The prominent environmentalist was killed by masked men in 2016 in a case that has yet to be solved. Fellow activists have suggested the government may have been involved or known about it.
Indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Caceres has been honored in her native country as well as across the globe for activism
What impact could Hernandez’s re-election have on the region?
For many analysts, Hernandez is attempting to consolidate power across the country even beyond the presidency.
“Hernandez is not just trying to win a presidential re-election, he’s trying to expand his power from top to bottom, including in the legislature and at the mayoral level,” James Bosworth, founder of political consulting firm Hxagon, told AP news agency.
With Hernandez continuing his presidency into a second term, the US would continue to enjoy support in the country for its “War on Drugs,” while the crackdown on drug cartels and gangs would likely find favor in the White House.
Many Hondurans have fled the country towards the US due to the alarming number of violent incidents in the country. That could change if Hernandez is able to continue the downward trend of the country’s murder rate.
The US has assisted Honduran authorities to capture tons of cocaine passing through the country
ls/jm (AFP, dpa, AP)