Honduras: One Muddy Election a Comin'

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There are 5.3 million registered voters in Honduras, according to that country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). That's just over 62 percent of the country's 8.5 million people who are eligible to vote in the general elections on Nov. 24, 2013. It is also 19 percent more than the 4.3 million people registered to vote in the last general elections on Nov. 29, 2009. Approximately 50 percent of registered voters in Honduras turned out to vote in the last elections. A total of 2,298,080 votes were cast to elect the president, although only 1,980,724 of them were declared valid. Of the invalid votes, 92,534 were nullified and 61,086 were blank votes. Consequently, the presidential election was determined by 46 percent of the registered voters.

Voter turnout for the previous general elections on Nov. 27, 2005 was about 55.1 percent -- a total 2,190,398 votes cast for the presidential election. Of those votes, only 2,000,908 were valid. So of the 3,976,550 registered voters that year, only 50 percent of them actually participated in the election of the president. Voter turnout was 2,082,786 (66.3 percent) in the 2001 presidential election, based on a total of 3,448,240 registered voters. In 1997, turnout was 2,096,646 (72.7 percent), based on 2,883,919 registered voters. In 1993, turnout was 1,771,825 (64.8 percent), based on 2,734,116 registered voters. If you look at the trend over the past five elections, what you see is that the number of registered voters has consistently risen every four years. For 1993 to 1997, the increase was about 5 percent. From 1997 to 2001, it was 17 percent. From 2001 to 2005, it was 13 percent. From 2005 to 2009, it was 8 percent. The number of registered voters for this year's elections will represent the steepest increase in recent memory. But what is also evident is that relative voter turnout has been declining in the past decade. It was 66.3 percent in 2001, 55.1 percent in 2005, and 50 percent in 2009. The highest it has been in the last two decades is 72.7 percent (in 1997). So increases in the number of registered voters does not translate into higher voter turnout. In fact, it has been the opposite. I think this year will be different, because there is more voter interest, concern, and excitement about the presidential election than at anytime in recent history. Much of this is due to the creation of the Libre and Anti-Corruption parties and the candidacies of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya and Salvador Nasralla. It is entirely possible that the existence of these two new parties and the candidacies of these two unusually popular figures could break the dominance of Honduras' National and Liberal parties. At the very least, Mrs. Zelaya and Mr. Nasralla make it unlikely that any presidential candidate this year will win more than 50 percent of the popular vote, or even 40 percent. I predict voter turnout will be 60-65 percent of registered voters -- which would mean somewhere between 3.18 million and 3.44 million voters. If you take the lower estimate, it would represent a 28 percent larger turnout than in 2009 and 31 percent larger than in 2005. If you take the higher one, it would represent a 31 percent larger turnout than in 2009 and 36 percent larger than in 2005. It is likely that the decline in voter turnout in Honduras will be reversed this year, but it seems unlikely that turnout would be more than 30 percent over 2009, even though the number of registered voters this year is 19 percent higher than in 2009. An increase of 28 percent in voter turnout sounds sufficiently ambitious... so the chances are that we're looking at a voter turnout of no more than about 3.18 million people. So how will this 3.18 million be split between the eight presidential candidates that will be on the ballot? You can certainly look at the public polls being taken by various polling firms, TV stations, newspapers, and phone companies, as well as the respective campaigns. But that may leave you more confused than anything else, because the results are all over the board. Perhaps the best place to start is to look at the votes cast during the primary elections on Nov. 17, 2012. It's a good bet that those who voted for the presidential "pre-candidates" then will come and vote for them again a year later. For example, we know that 1,140,000 Hondurans came out and voted for the Nationalist pre-candidates in the primaries, and that 719,583 voted for the Liberal pre-candidates and 594,531 for the Libre pre-candidate. Combined, these add up to a total of 2,454,114 votes. This is roughly 725,886 short of the roughly 3.18 million voters I believe will turnout on November 24. If the National Party attracts the same number of votes it garnered in the primaries and takes at least 20 percent of the 725,886 outstanding votes, that would give its candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández, at least 1,285,177 votes -- and probably enough to win the Presidency. If Liberal candidate Mauricio Villeda were to get his 719,583 base support primary votes, he would need 565,594 to catch Mr. Hernández. That means that Mr. Villeda would have to win more than 97 percent of the remaining outstanding votes, and that's unlikely. The odds for Libre candidate Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, starting with her 594,531 base support primary votes, would be even more daunting. The only likely way for Mr. Hernández to lose the election would be if he loses a sizeable portion of the Nationalist vote and ends up getting less than 1.1 million votes. That means that Mr. Villeda would need about 400,000 votes -- in addition to his base support votes (719,583)-- to beat Mr. Hernández. The specter of Mr. Hernández losing lots of Nationalist votes is quite possible. Mr. Hernández isn't exactly adored within his party. There are many Nationalists who are concerned that he is too power hungry -- much in the same way that Liberals were concerned about President Manuel Zelaya before he was overthrown. Many Nationalists simply do not trust Mr. Hernández, and they've already decided to support Mr. Villeda, who is a center-right Liberal and thus not so distant philosophically from some of the more moderate Nationalists. Mr. Villeda has a reputation for honesty and integrity, and many Nationalists simply feel more comfortable with him. Meanwhile, Mr. Villeda's base support isn't going anywhere. Those who voted Liberal in the primaries are not likely to vote for Mr. Hernández or Mrs. Zelaya. Mr. Villeda has a potentially much higher ceiling of votes than either Mr. Hernández or Mrs. Zelaya. There are a lot of Liberals out there who did not vote in the primaries, but will vote in the general election. Mr. Villeda and Mr. Hernández would end up with a combined total of about 2.2 million votes. That would leave some 980,000 of my anticipated 3.18 million votes. At least 61 percent (594,531 -- Mrs. Zelaya's base support) of those votes would go to Mrs. Zelaya, and probably more because there were a fair number of people who didn't vote in the Libre primary out of fear that they might lose their jobs if their Liberal or Nationalist employers found out that they were standing in the Libre line to cast their votes. On the other hand, some of the Libre primary voters may change their minds and go Liberal. It could be a wash. If the story line proceeds anywhere close to the way I'm telling it, then Mr. Villeda could win the Presidency with about 35-36 percent of the vote, compared to 34-35 percent for Mr. Hernández. Again, though, if Mr. Hernández holds on to all or near-all of those who would normally vote Nationalist, he wins. The best showing I see for Mrs. Zelaya in a three-way race is 30 percent, which would be amazing for a socialist candidate representing a brand new party. Socialist or communist candidates in Honduras have traditionally attracted no more than 2-3 percent of the vote. Of course, the reality is that the upcoming election will not be a three-way race. There will be eight candidates. Four of those -- Jorge Aguilar of the PINU, Andrés Pavón of UD-FAPER, Orle Solís of the Christian Democratic, and Romeo Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance -- can be dismissed outright. Together, they will attract only about 5 percent of the total vote. Ninety-five percent of the estimated 3.18 million voters -- about 3,021,000 -- will go with either Mr. Hernández, Mr. Villeda, Mrs. Zelaya, or Salvador Nasralla of the new Anti-Corruption Party (PAC). It is extremely hard to envision Mr. Nasralla winning the Presidency. Not impossible, but very difficult. Mr. Nasralla's party does not have anywhere close to the organization of the Liberal or Nationalist parties, or even that of Libre. What he does have is face and name recognition. He's a popular TV personality in Honduras, and Hondurans genuinely like Mr. Nasralla's blunt manner of speaking and habit of taking on the establishment. A lot of people will vote for Mr. Nasralla because they think he may be able to shake things up in Tegucigalpa. But it's not clear how big of a base of support Mr. Nasralla really has. He will draw some votes away from Mr. Hernández, Mr. Villeda, and Mrs. Zelaya, but even if he were to take away 10 percent (a tough proposition) from the base of each of his main opponents and carve out his own niche of support from the remaining 380,000 voters, Mr. Nasralla could only amass about 660,000 votes. Nowhere close to enough to win, but certainly enough to muddy the field. I think the best Mr. Nasralla can do is take about 15 percent of the total vote. With the four minor candidates taking about 5 percent. Even with Mr. Nasralla and the four minor candidates in the race, it is unlikely that Mrs. Zelaya's share of the total vote will be less than 20 percent. Her base supporters are the most passionate of the electorate. Mrs. Zelaya's ceiling may be around 22 percent. That would leave about 58 percent (1,844,400) of the total votes left to be divided between Mr. Hernández and Mr. Villeda. It's going to be very close and very messy. The next President of Honduras may conceivably end up with only a little more than 29 percent of all the ballots cast. That's not much of a mandate.

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