After a heavily contested election, Honduras has a new president-elect. The director of the Honduran Electoral Tribunal, David Matamoros, made it so on December 12 when he announced that conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez led the vote count and that his lead was “irreversible.” The bold announcement from Matamoros came after opposition parties launched a barrage of complaints arguing that fraud, violence, and inconsistencies had marred the electoral process significantly enough to affect the final tally. Throngs of supporters of the LIBRE and Anti-Corruption parties marched in the streets to protest the results. After the late November election, popular pressure was intense enough that Matamoros himself stood awkwardly before cameras and announced a vote re-count. But, as so often happens in Honduras, political expediency overtook any pretense of fairness, and Matamoros returned a few days later to announce the final results—recount be damned. The deal was quickly sealed by congratulatory statements, delivered as if on cue, by OAS Chief Jose Manuel Insulza and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Since the June 2009 coup that ousted former president Manuel Zelaya from office, elections in Honduras have been about more than deciding which candidates win political office. For the post-coup political class, elections have also been about reestablishing Honduras’ tarnished image on the international stage. The November 24 contest presented a massive challenge to the ruling National Party, since it was the first election in which the forces opposed to the coup ran candidates. As such, the election was a matchup between the two major political forces of the post-coup era: the ruling National Party and its blueblood candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez, who also led the Honduran Congress in its most recent session, and the nascent LIBRE party, which put its hopes in Xiomara Castro, the wife of the ousted Zelaya.
Given the rancor that existed between the two factions and the extreme marginalization of opposition voices in the post-coup period, some analysts questioned the Honduran government’s capacity to deliver anything more than a “demonstration election.”
Dana Frank, writing in The Nation, pointedly asked whether the U.S. State Department was in the business of manufacturing “the illusion of democracy in Honduras so that Hernández can win and the United States can continue to pour tens of millions of dollars into the security forces in the name of the ‘war on drugs.’” Frank’s question may have been posited hypothetically, but for international election observers, it pointed to an eerie truth.