San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Hondurans Gear Up for Weekend Elections

TEGUCIGALPA – On Sunday, some 2.5 million Hondurans are expected to turn out at the polls to elect their new President, 128 lawmakers and 298 mayors to lead them for the next four years.Though five parties will appear on the ballot for president, the election has all but boiled down to a two-horse race between cowboy candidates Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo of the incumbent, conservative National Party, and Manuel “Mel” Zelaya of the more populist Liberal Party, which together have held most of the country’s political power for the last 85 years.This will be the seventh democratic election held in Honduras since a military dictatorship relinquished power in 1982.Both men are former ranchers from the eastern department of Olancho – Honduras’ largest department, often considered the nation’s “wild west.” And both have shown a bit a cowboy brawl heading into the homestretch of the campaign.Lobo, considered the frontrunner with some 46% of the intended vote in the most recent CID/Gallup polls, has accused his opponent of being a gang-bangers’ candidate who is in cahoots with Nicaragua’s Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. Zelaya, who has slipped in the polls in recent months to about 30% of the intended vote, has accused Lobo’s campaign of being anti-Christian.YET behind the veil of verbal jousting, the candidates’ platforms seem to have little substance, as the daily El Heraldo noted in its editorial Monday.“The questions of how to keep our hospitals supplied, how to guarantee 200 school days, how to ensure that criminals are sent to prison, how to lower the prices of basic products and increase wages – these are the question that have not been answered by the five (presidential) candidates,” the newspaper claimed.The candidates have made some promises, but only in general terms.Lobo, the former head of the Honduras Forestry Bureau, a three-time congressman and president of the National Congress, has promised to create 600,000 jobs over four years, as well as to increase tourism, offer more student scholarships, cut taxes, and fight crime.Zelaya, a former congressman in the ’80s and ’90s, has based his campaign on job creation and increasing citizen participation in government.THE biggest point of contention in the campaign has been the issue of how to address Honduras’ continuing struggle with violent crime.Lobo, whose campaign symbol is an upraised clenched fist, proposes to continue the “hard-handed” policies of current president Ricardo Maduro, and to reinstate the death penalty, which was banned in Honduras in 1956.Zelaya has called the National Party’s strategy a “policy of death,” and says the death penalty goes against Christian values. He has blasted Maduro’s former Security Minister, Oscar Alvarez, who has been accused by some of covering up police involvement in the executions of minors.Lobo, meanwhile, has taken Alvarez under his wing; the former minister recently resigned his post to campaign with the National Party candidate. Lobo has promised that if elected, Alvarez will again serve as his Security Minister.MEDIA commentators and minority party candidates have decried the whole death-penalty debate as hoopla.The death penalty is forbidden by several international treaties to which Honduras is a signatory nation, making it unlikely that Congress would actually vote to reinstate capital punishment, political observers claim.Others cynically note that the large number of mysterious executions of young people – now averaging nearly two extrajudicial killings per day – suggests the country has already reinstated a clandestine form of the death penalty.MINORITY party candidates include: Juan Almendares, a former university rector, running for the left-wing Democratic Unity; Juan Ramón Martínez, a businessman and journalist, running on the ticket of the Christian Democrats (DC); and Jorge Sosa Coello, of the center-left Social Democratic Innovation and Unity Party (PINU).In the 2001 presidential election, the PINU candidate ranked tops among the minority candidates, winning 1.5% of the vote.Though the three minority parties together hold 10% of seats in Congress, they aren’t expected to win many votes for the presidency.In fact, they can hardly afford to run.ACCORDING to data gathered by non-governmental election trackers, the ruling National Party spent approximately $2.4 in campaign ads over the last two months, compared to the Liberal Party’s $1.8 million.The leading minority party spent $160,000, while the smallest party spent less than $30,000.During the same period the government has spent an additional $280,000 on public announcements.

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