Honduras approaches the polls with distrust | International

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Workers begin to order the material that will be used in the elections in Honduras.FREDY RODRIGUEZ (Reuters)

Approximately 45% of Honduran citizens expect the elections next Sunday, November 28, to be somewhat or very fraudulent. This is indicated by one of the few surveys that were carried out before the beginning of the prohibition of pre-electoral polls, which in the Central American country is one of the most severe on the continent: a month before the elections, nothing can be disseminated. In the last ones that were known before the closure there was no clear winner. Of four for which at least a sufficiently large sample can be known, two were dominated by the official candidate Nasry Asfura and the other two were headed by Xiomara Castro, wife of former president Manuel Zelaya deposed in 2009 by way of a coup d’état. candidate for the third time in a row spearheading a leftist platform.

There is also the circumstance that Salvador Nasralla, third in most polls until the final stretch, consolidated an alliance with Castro just a month ago: on October 13, the joint candidacy with her as number one in the formula was set. In 2017, Nasralla lost by a narrow margin to current president Juan Orlando Hernández, in a highly contested presidential election for which the Organization of American States requested a repeat. According to the periodic measurements of the Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD), his coalition with Castro may be definitive to boost the opposition.

However, this is only a measurement, inevitably subject to uncertainty. Even more so when at the time of taking the last fieldwork, voters had not yet had time to assume, process and react to the announcement. This could be particularly true for hesitant voters but more distant from Castro and Nasralla, for whom a clear signal of the viability of this candidacy could tip the balance of their decision precisely towards Nasry Asfura. This is the usual process of casting votes in a polarized environment, in which decisions against (to prevent someone from winning) count as much or more than those taken in favor.

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But, how can these results be interpreted in a context such as that of Honduras, in which one in two potential voters does not believe that their ballot will be respected with all the integrity of an electoral process? This doubt is also based on comparative evidence. The Clean Elections Index, a reference metric maintained by the V-Dem Institute of the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg and which considers dimensions such as the freedom to vote or the risk of intimidation of the Government, shows how it has deteriorated the institutionality since 2005. The comparison with neighboring Costa Rica makes the trend even more evident.

Zelaya’s election, but especially the coup to depose him and the 2017 electoral process, mark the turning points in the process. The descending line of this graph is painted in parallel with the complete decline of the country: the perception of comparative corruption has brought Honduras down to position 152 in Transparency International’s annual ranking, from 71st in 2002. As a paradigmatic case, the current president’s brother was convicted of large-scale drug trafficking in New York in 2019. GDP per capita It has grown steadily until the start of the pandemic, but at a much slower rate than that of its neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala (which started from a similar point in 1990) and only slightly better than Nicaragua, despite the fact that it was it has plunged into an authoritarian regression unmatched in the region. And, once the (high) level of 40 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants has been reached, the improvements in the crime rate have stopped.

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Faced with the progressive erosion of political, economic and social expectations, thousands of its citizens have chosen in recent years to flee to the United States. Those who stay don’t seem to trust the cornerstone of the system.

The 45% who suspect electoral fraud correspond like a mirror to the fact that only 49% consider that democracy is superior to other government systems, according to the recently published Barometer of the Americas.

Furthermore, although the deterioration in the perception of democracy is a constant throughout the region, it has been Honduras that has seen the sharpest drop since the end of the 2000s. The proportion of the population that is quite or strongly at odds with democratic superiority. Even more than in countries that have suffered worse erosions of the system, such as Nicaragua itself or Haiti.

The current context has only been the last straw: according to the CESPAD survey, at the end of October, only 25% approved of Juan Orlando Hernández’s management. Not even in the health and pandemic dimensions, in which it fares comparatively better, does this figure rise above a third. And the core of the negative assessment is in employment, which is also the issue that most concerns potential voters according to this same poll.

By August 2020, Honduras was the Latin American country with the toughest confinement restrictions. It also scored high on the index maintained by the Oxford University School of Public Policy for closed schools, jobs, or trips. GDP fell 9% that year, a very considerable bite for a low-income country. To date, four out of 10 Hondurans have received their complete vaccination schedule, the only thing that resembles a way out of the unsolvable dilemma between health and the economy that the world has gotten into with the epidemic. But even on this urgent front, progress has slowed: a month ago the rate was only two points lower.

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All these figures paint a blurry context but with at least one clear line: it is true that, with the available data on voting intention, it does not seem possible to even guess a winner. But what can be said is that any candidacy close to the reigning system has an adverse context with which to fight this Sunday at the polls.

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