TEGUCIGALPA from Honduras
Hondurans voted on Sunday for a successor to deeply unpopular President Juan Orlando Hernández in elections that could topple his National Party after 12 years in power.
The candidate most likely to do so is Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Freedom and Refoundation party. The former first lady is making her third run for president and is the only one of 13 opposition candidates to have a chance to beat Hernández’s hand-picked successor Nasry Asfura, a popular mayor of Tegucigalpa.
The level of distrust of Hondurans in the electoral process is such that many fear that there could be unrest in the streets, whoever wins.
Julio Cesar Nieto, a 62-year-old retiree from the justice system, said he hoped political parties would act responsibly and recognize a winner to avoid the violence that took place after the elections four years ago.
“Everyone is looking for a change,” Nieto said after voting at a primary school in the capital’s El Bosque district. The polling station opened its doors to voters more than an hour after the scheduled time.
Despite the late start, the vote seemed orderly. Poll workers checked IDs, scanned fingerprints and took photos of voters. Ballots were marked, put in clear plastic boxes – for the president, for members of Congress, for local races – and voters’ little fingers were smeared with ink.
Luis Guillermo Solis, former President of Costa Rica and head of the Organization of American States observation mission, said on Sunday morning that preliminary reports had started to arrive from their observers and things appeared to be normal.
“We have been to various (polling) centers before and we see more or less the same long lines of people exercising their civic rights,” he said.
Sandra Castillo voted on Sunday at the National Pedagogical University in a bourgeois district of Tegucigalpa. She said she voted for a change, not necessarily of party, but a change of people in power, so that “they don’t continue to rule the same way.”
Honduran elected leaders affected business and investment in the way they governed, said Castillo, who works in the administration of the justice system. Statistics like unemployment make the country’s struggles undeniable, she said.
And yet, she has heard no clear plan for how to address these issues in any of the candidates’ campaigns.
“I haven’t seen any real proposals on what they’re going to do, how they’re going to do it,” Castillo said. “The speeches were a bit empty of plans. “
Asfura voted in the same spot later in the morning. He called for peace and respect for the voting process.
Asked about his opponents, Asfura objected. “I am not saying opposition, these are my friends,” said the longtime mayor of Tegucigalpa. “Today all of us politicians must show civic action for Honduras.”
After a protracted contest filled with irregularities in 2017, protesters took to the streets and the government imposed a curfew. Three weeks later, Hernández was declared the winner despite the Organization of American States observation mission calling for an overhaul. At least 23 people were killed.
This time, the companies located along the main axes of the capital are not taking any risks. Workers mounted sheets of plywood over their many windows on Saturday.
More than 5.1 million Hondurans are registered to vote at nearly 6,000 polling stations across the country. In addition to a new president, they will choose a new congress, new representatives in the Central American Parliament and a multitude of local races.
Experts say it will be a question of whether people dissatisfied with the National Party regime come forward in sufficient numbers to defeat the outgoing president’s powerful electoral apparatus. Hondurans have reported receiving phone calls from the National Party in recent days offering an assortment of payments or other government benefits and reminding them to vote. Some calls proposed to organize transport to the polling places.
In a world hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Honduras can count this as one of the crises that have ravaged it in recent years. Last year, the country also suffered the devastating effects of two major hurricanes. Unemployment was 10.9% last year while the economy shrank 9%. Powerful street gangs continue to terrorize Hondurans, leading, with economic factors, to tens of thousands of Hondurans to emigrate.
Corruption is practiced with such impunity that Hondurans have turned their hopes to US federal prosecutors in New York. They obtained a life sentence for Hernández’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, for drug trafficking, and accused the president of fueling his political rise with the proceeds of drugs, although they did not. have not charged. Juan Orlando Hernández has denied any wrongdoing.
The ground therefore seems favorable for Castro, but doubts remain as to the extent of the real changes it would bring. Her husband, José Manuel Zelaya, was ousted by the military in a coup in 2009. US prosecutors have also linked him to bribes from drug traffickers, which he denies also.
In the mountainside neighborhood of El Bosque, people started lining up 30 minutes before polling stations were scheduled to open at a primary school. Bundled up in sweatshirts and windbreakers, they moved from foot to foot trying to stay warm against the gusts of wind.
Evelyn Flores, a 49-year-old secretary in a government agency, had a more jaded outlook, but nevertheless felt compelled to take up her civic responsibility.
“They all disappoint,” Flores said of the politicians. “They promise and don’t keep.”
Flores’ life has not improved in recent years. If she got a small increase, the cost of basic necessities also increased.
“We need someone to lift this country up because there is a lot of poverty, a lot of deficiencies,” she said.
Alberto Vazquez, a construction worker, expressed his support for the outgoing National Party, but saw little chance of positive change. “It doesn’t matter who wins, it’s not going to help us because the economic situation is not going to change,” he said. “The one who wins is the one who will take advantage of his power and prestige, we will stay as we are.”