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In Honduras President Hernandez Coasts To An Easy Re-Election

Juan Orlando Hernández, 55th President of Honduras.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has been in office since January of 2014. He is now running for re-election. According to the 1982 Constitution that action, would have been illegal. Two years ago, the Supreme Court of Honduras ruled the prohibition on term limits was to be lifted. The previous law was enacted to prevent a single person, from accumulating too much political power and attempting a dictatorship.

Public opinion polls puts the conservative Hernandez at 56%, that is 15% ahead of his main rival Salvador Nasralla, who is a sports broadcaster. Nasralla is representing the left-wing Libre and PINU parties in the election. He is making entrenched corruption, the main focus of his campaign.

The political opposition are connecting Hernandez himself, with widespread corruption, that permeates throughout the country.

The anti-Hernandez vote is further divided between Nasralla and Luis Zelaya, who is the candidate from the Liberal Party. The latter a former professor, has no real chance of winning, but is drawing away support from Nasralla.

Salvador Nasralla, presidential candidate.

Therefore, the re-election of President Hernandez, as the National Party nominee on November 26, is at this point almost inevitable. His party is also likely to gain seats, in the 128 member unicameral National Congress, which is holding elections at the same time.

Hondurans support President Hernandez for his success for reducing violence and ending the recession. He has delivered on both campaign promises, but claims there is far more work to be done. A recent poll identified that crime still remains, the top concern for 60% of Hondurans ahead of the election.

President Hernandez will succeed in his attempt to hold onto power, where others have failed. When the former left-wing President Manuel Zelaya tried to stage a public referendum, to do away with term limits in 2009,he was removed from power by the army. President Hernandez decided instead, to work within the system.

Location of Honduras on a global map.

As the leader of Congress from 2010 to 2013, Hernandez encouraged the dismissal by the legislature, of four Supreme Court judges. Their replacements would later invalidate, the constitutional prohibition against term limits. That set the stage for a consolidation of power by President Hernandez.

It is important to note that over 60% of the Honduran electorate opposed changing the Constitution, to permit presidential re-elections in the first place.

Even before his first inauguration, the Honduran Congress passed a series of laws, that would give the incoming President Hernandez, far more authority over government spending.

As a result, if tax revenues are higher than expected, the President has far more discretion in how the money will be spent. Often the amount of government income is intentionally forecast to be lower, to allow Hernandez more money to be allocated for political objectives.

It permits extra spending on infrastructure and social programs, that intentionally blurs the lines of distinction, between the government and the National Party.

This added access to funds, permits President Hernandez to have far more influence in the Congress, even though his center-right National Party, still does not have an absolute majority in the legislature.

During his presidency Hernandez has brought stability to public expenditures. He has raised taxes, but has also cut government expenditures on wages. In 2016, the Congress would approve legislation to formalize the new fiscal responsibility.

Bananas are one of Honduras’ main exports.

The budget deficit has been dramatically reduced from 7.9% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2013 to 2.8% last year. Credit rating agencies have responded with an upgrade on Honduran debt, which has translated to lower interest rates on sovereign loans.

As a consequence, the debt to GDP ratio has dropped from 42.93% in the first year of his tenure, to 38.45% in 2016.

The economic revival of the country is helping President Hernandez as well. The GDP is set to expand a total of 4% this year. Honduras is benefiting from the global economic recovery. This is providing more markets for a bumper crop of coffee and shrimp. There is also greater world demand for bananas, which has led to higher prices for Honduran farmers.

In addition, there has been a corresponding 10% surge, in remittances from Hondurans living outside the country. Some 600,000 Hondurans, which is near 7% of the population, have emigrated to the United States. This was due to previous economic difficulties, political instability and infrastructure damage from a number of storms.

Tegucigalpa, the political and financial capital of Honduras.

President Hernandez pledged before his first election, that he would clamp down on the high crime rate and general lawlessness throughout the country.

When he took the presidency, the murder rate in Honduras was the highest globally. Hernandez has reduced the level by nearly 50%. It has been cut from 79 per 100,000 people in 2013 to 42 this year. However, the present rate is still 50% above the average in Latin America.

To bring the number of murders down even lower, the government will need to replace the regular army, with a completely reformed police force, that will be able to do more investigations of crime. As recently as 2012, a total of 63% of the citizenry, thought the police were part of the epidemic in crime. This lack of public confidence is again, the highest in Latin America.

Honduran Coat Of Arms

The Hernandez Administration is attempting to win back the public trust. About 14,000 which is near 25% of the police force, has already been discharged from their positions.

The government is planning to double the size of the police force by 2022. A further reform is to make promotions within the police,to be based more on merit rather than seniority.

President Hernandez has nearly doubled the total budget for security during his first term. He has also sent the army in, to patrol the most dangerous communities and has strengthened overall supervision of the border areas.

Honduran Police in a rural area.

He is the first president to send criminals to the United States. He advocated for the change in the constitution, to allow extradition from Honduras.

Hernandez is more than willing to work with other countries, to reduce the crime associated with the drug trade. This has resulted with a reduction, in the amount of cocaine, that is being shipped through Honduras in transit to the United States.

However, President Hernandez has not been able to move the Honduran economy itself, away from the trade in drugs. The economic plan to encourage more tourism and get foreign firms to open up additional manufacturing plants, is having very limited success.

In fact, foreign direct investment actually fell by 30% to just $1 billion USD (United States Dollar) between 2014 and 2016. Furthermore, most of the money being invested, consists of corporate profits from companies already operating in Honduras.

Honduran children, are often malnourished.

Tellingly,with a population of over 9 million, the poverty rate in Honduras, remains above 60%. It remains the second poorest nation in Central America.  This is despite a growing economy and a relative low rate of unemployment of just 4%. Inflation is a moderate 4.1% as well.

The problem rests more with low wages, that can be attributed to the lack of education and inadequate job skills of the workforce. There has been little done by the government to change this dynamic.

In Honduras, the support for democracy has declined to just 34%. There has been a 7% drop, this year alone. In reality, the ideology has the lowest rate of approval in all of Latin America. It seems the electorate prefers economic stability and social order, rather than maintaining democratic processes.

Lastly, working in favor of President Hernandez is the fact, that he just needs a plurality of votes, which his party’s base will provide. A majority will be unnecessary, to win the election. The allies of the President control the election tribunal and changes to the law, which now allows the National Party to virtually control the vote count at polling places. His re-election, is all but assured.

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