Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez is considering running for re-election in next year’s presidential race and is expected to announce his decision this week, even though there’s a fierce debate over whether such a move would even be legal, stirring up old wounds of the 2009 coup and the ill-footed reasons Honduran elites and the U.S. State Department cooked up to justify it.
Hernandez’ potential bid for president surfaced earlier this year, marking the first time a sitting or former president in Honduras proposed running for a second term after the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional ban on presidential reelection in 2015. The conservative National Party president told supporters Sunday that he will announce before Thursday whether or not he will “accept” the candidacy.
The issue of presidential re-election has become the hallmark of right-wing hypocrisy in Honduras. Coup-perpetrators accused ousted President of Manuel Zelaya of attempting to manipulate the constitution seek another term in office — an impossible feat since he was barred from being on the ballot — by holding a non-binding poll in November 2009 on whether to call a referendum on rewriting the Honduran Constitution. The same elites have since rammed through changes that pave the way for the very presidential re-election they so staunchly opposed just years ago.
But Zelaya's left-wing Libre party — born out of the post-coup national resistance movement to break the bipartisan political system and advocate for rewriting the Honduran Constitution to “refound” the state — has blasted the government’s presidential re-election scheme as unconstitutional, arguing that only the Honduran people have the power to change the constitution. Instead, Honduras’ Supreme Court made the constitutional change and repeatedly rejected appeals against the move.
“Re-election is a sovereign power and must be approved or rejected in a nation constituent assembly,” Zelaya wrote on his Twitter account recently amid the ongoing debate over Hernandez’ potential candidacy. Zelaya, a member of Congress, has vowed to vote against a proposal for presidential re-election in Congress along with other Libre members.
In a statement last week, the Libre party slammed presidential re-election and Hernandez’s potential candidacy as “illegal” and condemned a smear campaign against the left-wing party that it claimed is aimed at propping reinstating a system of bipartisan politics.
“We ask our members to not let yourselves be confused, because neither coup d’etats, fraud nor repression has been able to stop Libre, much less a media campaign,” read the statement. “Libre will not stop demanding clean elections and electoral reforms until JOH (Juan Orlando Hernandez) and the selloff of Honduras are stopped.”
Libre’s candidate for Honduras’ top office will be Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro, who ran as the party’s inaugural candidate in the 2013 election against Hernandez. Her National Party rival won amid widespread complaints of electoral fraud, political repression and corruption in the electoral system.
The 2013 presidential race was the country’s first after the widely-boycotted 2009 election that brought the National Party to power under a repressive coup regime just months after Zelaya’s ouster. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had pushed for the 2009 elections to go ahead to solidify Zelaya’s removal. In the hardcover version of her memoir, "Hard Choices," Clinton wrote: “In the subsequent days I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere … We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” The quote was removed from the paperback edition of her book.
Hondurans will know before the week is over whether Herandez and Castro will face off for a second time at the polls in November 2017.