Monday, November 27, 2017

Possible opposition upset in Honduras' presidential election (Nov. 27, 2017)

Rival candidates yesterday's presidential election in Honduras have both claimed victory, with just over half the votes counted, reports the BBC. A former journalist heading an opposition coalition, Salvador Nasralla, is in the lead so far, with just over 45 percent of the vote. President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) is a close second though, with 40 percent. Both said they were certain of victory.

Turnout was reportedly larger than expected around the country.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released its first report of preliminary results nearly 10 hours after polls closed, notes Al Jazeera. It later suspended updates to the vote count due to lack of representative results from around the country, reports La Prensa. The TSE warned that the votes counted did not include more than 7,000 ballot boxes from the interior of the country, and that the 2 million missing votes could change the result, reports El Heraldo

Hernández himself warned that the votes counted could not be considered representative, reports El País. Hernández cited exit polls as the basis for his purported victory, reports Reuters. A private television channel exit poll predicted a win for Hernández with nearly 44 percent of the vote, reports Infobae.

Final vote tallies might not be ready until Thursday, warns Honduras Culture and Politics, and the TSE has not yet posted vote totals on the website, which would allow for a better assessment of what the final outcome might be. Nonetheless, the initial reporting of Nasralla's lead is already a relevant point, according to the site.

JOH was widely expected to win a second term -- a polemic undertaking in a country where the Supreme Court approved the possibility of consecutive terms in 2015, and a president was ousted by the military in 2009 ostensibly for angling to create a legal framework to seek another term. 

In fact, deposed former president Manuel Zelaya played a prominent role in this election as part of Nasralla's Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship. And nostalgia for Zelaya's government may have swayed voters towards Nasralla, according to the New York Times. Nasralla also benefited from a perceived "outsider" status in a political scene marked by corruption, writes Elizabeth Malkin.

In contrast, JOH bet on security policies that targeted violence and succeeded in bringing down homicides significantly. He has however been marked by allegations of corruption and criticized for sidestepping the constitutional ban on reelection.

It is not clear whether Nasralla would continue a commission aimed at rooting out endemic police corruption, as well as an OAS backed anti-corruption mission. Earlier this month, InSight Crime said Nasralla said he would revisit the cases of police officers recently removed by the commission.

"A victory for Nasralla would be a blow for the United States, which sees Hernandez as a reliable ally in tackling drug trafficking, gangs and migration," according to Reuters. But Honduran Culture and Politics criticizes this characterization, saying its an oversimplification of differences among the country's parties. "Honduran political parties all want good relations with the US. What the National Party provides, though, is a willing partner in militarization of policing in Honduras that some US policy makers think is a key to ending drug trafficking (or at least diminishing it). Hernández also has accepted US characterization of undocumented migration to the US as his country's problem, leading him to militarize the borders to stop people fleeing violence in the cities and drug-dominated areas."

"We have defeated fraud," Nasralla told supporters, in reference to reports that the ruling National Party could rig the vote. "There is no doubt."

On Saturday the Economist reported on a recording that -- if authentic -- appears to indicate a push by the National Party to fraudulently increase its vote count. The two hour recording is of a training session for party representatives at polling stations, and "suggests three ways to alter the vote during the counting process: spoiling ballots by adding extra marks; filling in leftover ballots; and damaging the bar-code on tally sheets that record a majority for opposition parties." These are classic dirty tricks, say experts consulted in the piece, and are not surprising for Hondurans who distrust in the political system. Nor is it clear that they could significantly alter the outcome, say others.

Though Hernández was predicted to win yesterday, the strategy could be aimed at improving his party's Congressional position, notes the Economist.

Nonetheless, 600 international observers said the election was carried out cleanly and peacefully, reports El País.

Yesterday the The Liberal Party, also raised concerns about irregularities, pointing out to Al Jazeera that polls were closed at 4 pm, when they are usually extended for another hour.

Hernández's critics say the president is tightening his grip on power using the country's fragile institutions, notes Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Intense socio-economic inequality in São Paulo mirrors that of Brazil, the the 10th most unequal country in the world, according to the Guardian, which has a series on the city this week. The piece cites data in life-expectancy disparities from the 2017 Inequality Map, a survey produced by Rede Nossa São Paulo. Separately in the Guardian, Leonardo Sakamoto writes about the challenge to inequality posed by vibrant social movements and organizations. "The inequality in São Paulo makes it difficult for people to see themselves and others as being entitled to the same consideration, something that should guide all social relations. At the same time, there is a perception – arguably correct – that the state authorities are there to serve the wealthiest and control the poorest, using the police and the political process to defend the privileges of the former by using violence against the latter if need be. However, one of the world’s most unequal cities also has an intense and lively network of social movements and organisations fighting to change the status quo. And if there is a shift in the way the city treats the most humble, it is due to their own mobilisation, pressure and struggle – and not to the kindness of the supposedly enlightened or charity from the most well-off."
  • An investigation by the Guardian and Agência Pública found that a fires in São Paulo favelas were more frequent on more valuable land in recent years. The finding could feed into concerns that the fires are the result of arson, and pushed by real estate values of the land the informal neighborhoods sit on.
  • And among the informal communities occupying the city's prime real estate is the infamous Cracolândia, Crackland. Earlier this year mayor João Doria declared war on the addicts' neighborhood (see July 14's briefs, for example), but despite a massive and violent operative, most residents simply relocated just a few meters away, reports the Guardian.
  • Carlos Chamorro denounces the official silence regarding allegations that an army operative earlier this month killed two minors in Nicaragua. The military announced a shootout with alleged criminals and identified one of six dead as a gang leader. But a mother is denouncing that the dead include two of her children, aged 16 and 12, as well as her husband, the gang leader's brother, he writes in El Confidencial. "Her denunciation puts all of society, particularly business leaders, economic allies and key interlocutors of [President Daniel] Ortega, in a limit situation. Nobody can remain indifferent to this crime. To keep quiet, with the excuse that it's collateral damage of a national rural security policy ... is the equivalent of backing a regime that governs without democracy and without transparence, and can now kill even minors with impunity."
  • In the midst of a Fuerza Popular push against Peru's general prosecutor and several Constitutional Tribunal magistrates, 68 percent of the population believes the Fujimorista party is abusing its power in Congress, according to a new GfK survey published in La República yesterday. This belief includes 35 percent of Fuerza Popular's own sympathizers, notes the survey. And 70 percent believe the accusations against Pablo Sánchez (see last Wednesday's  post) are payback for investigations into party leader Keiko Fujimori and former party secretary general Joaquín Ramírez. Respondents also disapproved of the move against the magistrates, and 42 percent said they'd be willing to take to the streets in defense of an independent Constitutional Tribunal.
  • The same survey puts President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's approval rating at 26, a percentage point up from last month. And his disapproval dropped slightly to 69 percent, reports La República.
  • On Friday Peru's head prosecutor accused former president Alejandro Toledo of taking bribes from Brazilian construction firm Camargo Correa SA in exchange for a highway contract, reports Reuters
  • The allegations come as Peruvian lawmakers seek to force apply new anti-corruption restrictions on local partners of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, a measure Kuczynski's administration says will paralyze construction and potential violate due process, reports Reuters.
  • A melting glaciar has made parts of the Peruvian Andes desert bloom -- prompting the irrigation and cultivation of more than 100,000 acres of land since the 1980s, reports the New York Times. But the flow of water is already declining, and scientists say it will end by 2050, yet another climate change challenge for the country.
  • Friday marked the one year anniversary of Colombia's peace accord with the FARC. However the hopeful moment has dimmed and implementation of the deal is flagging, according to the Associated Press. Just over half of the demobilized 8,000 former fighters have left the transition camps where they were meant to adjust to civilian life -- and there are fears that they might join criminal gangs or a dissident FARC movement that rejects the peace process. And Congress is running up a Dec. 1 deadline to implement critical peace accord legislation, including special peace tribunals. (See Nov. 15's briefs.)
  • Juanita León at la Silla Vacía also reviews the past year, noting that the central objective of carrying out FARC disarmament and demobilization -- a critical point for President Juan Manuel Santos and the "establishment" -- was carried out well. However, "everything else in the Peace Accord, which sought to transform structural conditions that facilitated the origin of the violence and its reproduction and which wasn't strictly tied to disarmament ... has been bogged down," she writes critically.
  • And, "the accords have not undermined Colombia’s criminal underworld as much as hoped, due largely to shortcomings in the implementation of certain measures," according to InSight Crime. "Under strong pressure from the United States to emphasize a traditional, hardline and repressive coca eradication policy, the Colombian government has stumbled forward in the implementation of voluntary crop substitution programs stipulated by the peace accords."
  • León also notes an interesting move by former Colombian president Ernesto Samper, who last week renounced his presidential immunity for potential human rights violations committed during his government, putting himself at the disposal of the Special Peace Tribunal and the Truth Commission, and inviting other former presidents to do the same.
  • The reincorporation of former FARC fighters into Colombian society is considered a critical part of the country's landmark peace accord. "One bright spot has been the FARC’s own creation of nearly two dozen so-called productive projects at the camps," reports the Associated Press, in a piece focused on Nueva Colombia Noticias, a budding video network started by former guerrillas. "The story of Nueva Colombia Noticias is in many ways a microcosm of both the successes and challenges of reintegrating former guerrillas into Colombian society. Reporting on the streets, the ex-combatants are coming face-to-face with a Colombian populace reluctant to embrace them after five decades of bloody conflict. Many Colombians are also wary of the network’s continued ties and unabashed support for the former guerrillas’ new political party."
  • The Guardian reports on testimony from a survivor of the fire in a Guatemalan youth shelter that killed 41 girls in March. Estefani Sotoj Hernández recounts abusive treatment at the shelter, where on the night of the fire, 56 girls had been locked inside a room as punishment for protesting. Several government officials, including the former minister of social welfare, his deputy and the director of the shelter – were charged with negligent homicide, abuse of power and mistreatment of minor. Lawyers are seeking to hold President Jimmy Morales accountable as well.
  • Mexico created a 150,000 square km ocean reserve around the Revillagigedo islands of the Baja California peninsula. The largest ocean reserve in North America will help ensure the conservation of marine creatures including whales, giant rays and turtles, reports the Guardian.

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