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Honduran Hardliner Wins Presidential Primary

TEGUCIGALPA – Honduras’ hardlinercongressional president and enthusiasticdeath-penalty advocate, Porfirio“Pepe” Lobo, last Sunday won the candidacyfor the ruling National Party’s 2005presidential ticket in the upcomingNovember elections.With 64% of the primary vote, Lobo’svictory is being viewed as a citizen responseto soaring crime and gang violence.Lobo, 58, handily defeated TegucigalpaMayor Miguel Pastor in the internalparty elections, and will now square offnext November against former congressmanManuel “Mel” Zelaya, 52, who wonthe Liberal Party’s primary election, whichwas also held on Sunday.Both candidates are from Olancho,Honduras’ largest state, and have madethemselves wealthy in that region’s traditionalindustries of cattle, farming andforestry.The fact that Lobo and Zelaya will bebattling for the same home constituency isexpected to translate into a very aggressivepresidential campaign in the comingmonths, political observers note.LOBO has served as the president ofHonduras’ National Congress for the lastthree years, and was previously the directorof the Department of Foresty. His campaign,similar to that of Zelaya, focused ongetting tougher on crime and creating newjobs by increasing foreign investment inmaquiladoras.The close and often dirty primaryrace between Lobo and Pastor was thefocus of much of the media’s pre-electionattention.In the days leading up to the election,Pastor’s supporters distributed thousandsof flyers linking Lobo with “el gasolinazo,”a recent scandal involving the smugglingof gasoline by high-ranking governmentofficials.Lobo enthusiasts countered by distributingpropaganda accusing Pastor of usingcampaign money donated by the M-18,one of Honduras’ most notorious andfeared street gangs.In the end, Lobo’s conservative values,clear slogan of “work and security,” andtougher stance on crime – embodied byLobo’s symbol of a raised, clenched fist –won out over Pastor’s more ambiguous “anew time” movement.The Liberal primary was much moreamicable.ALTHOUGH there were some problemswith ballot materials not being deliveredon time to some voting centers, electionobservers agreed that Sunday’s votingwas carried out in a clean and effectivemanner.The elections were the first primariesin Honduras to be monitored by internationalobservers. Civil groups also monitoredthe process.The primary election was the first tobe carried out under the new Law ofElections and Political Organizations,passed in May 2004.For the first time, primaries for president,mayor, and congressional candidateswere carried out on different ballots. Voterswere allowed to “split the vote” betweencongressional candidates of differentmovements, rather than having to vote forone movement as a bloc.Yet despite the allowance of splitvotes, the political movements headed byLobo and Zelaya managed to get theirmayoral candidates for both Tegucigalpaand San Pedro Sula elected, reinforcing thebipartisan nature of the country’s politicalsystem.WHILE the process was hailed as“exemplary,” the results leave much to bedesired, according to Honduran journalistThelma Mejía.“The difference (between the two candidates)is very minimal,” she said. “Thepeople of Honduras went to vote, but thepeople they elected don’t have any seriousproposals.”THE National and Liberal partieshave been the dominant forces inHonduran politics for more than a century.Ideologically, the two parties are nearlyindistinguishable. Both are oftendescribed as patron-client systems thatfocus on acquiring and distributing powerthrough networks of personal relationships,rather than being organizations based on aparticular ideological framework.Candidate Lobo does stick out fromZelaya in one area, however: security.Mejía and others find his stances worrisome.“It’s a return to authoritarianism,” shecharged. “He isn’t offering options forprevention or rehabilitation.”LOBO has advocated reinstatementof the death penalty, banned in Hondurassince 1954. In a frequently run televisionad, Lobo questions the justice of the governmentgiving food to imprisoned murderersand suggested that instead prisonersshould have to work “hard, veryhard,” to pay for food for the victims’families.Anti-gang laws have already been significantlytoughened under current presidentMaduro.Youths can be arrested merely forsporting tattoos. The crackdown on gangshas significantly decreased the incidenceof violent crime in the country, but has alsoresulted in severely overcrowded prisonsand reductions of civil liberties, rightsadvocates charge.Honduras’ three other registeredpolitical parties, the Christian DemocratsParty (PDCH), Democratic UnificationParty (UD), and the Social DemocraticInnovation and Unity Party (PINU-SD),opted not to hold internal elections.Although together these parties holdaround 10% of the seats of Honduras’ 128-member National Congress, none of theirpresidential candidates is expected to be aplayer in November’s elections.


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