Political Parties

Honduras Table of Contents

Two Traditionally Dominant Parties

Honduras essentially has had two dominant political parties, the PNH and the PLH, for most of this century, with the military allying itself with the PNH for an extended period beginning in 1963. The PLH was established in 1891 under the leadership of Policarpo Bonilla Vásquez and had origins in the liberal reform efforts of the late nineteenth century. The PNH was formed in 1902 by Manuel Bonilla as a splinter group of the PLH. Between 1902 and 1948, these two parties were the only officially recognized parties, a factor that laid the foundation for the currently entrenched PNH (red) and PLH (blue) two-party system. In the early 1990s, the internal workings of the two traditional political parties appeared to be largely free of military influence. Since the country returned to civilian rule in 1982, the military has not disrupted the constitutional order by usurping power as it did in 1956, 1963, and 1972, and it no longer appears to favor one party over the other as it did with the PNH for many years.

There appear to be few ideological differences between the two traditional parties. The PLH, or at least factions of the PLH, formerly espoused an antimilitarist stance, particularly because of the PNH's extended alliance with the military. The two PLH presidencies of the 1980s, however, appeared to end the PLH's antipathy toward the military. According to political scientists Ronald H. McDonald and J. Mark Ruhl, both parties are patron-client networks more interested in amassing political patronage than in offering effective programs. As observed by political scientist Mark Rosenberg, Honduran politicians emphasize competition and power, not national problem-solving, and governing in Honduras is determined by personal authority and power instead of institutions. The objective of political competition between the two parties has not been a competition for policies or programs, but rather a competition for personal gain in which the public sector is turned into private benefit. Nepotism is widespread and is an almost institutionalized characteristic of the political system, whereby public jobs are considered rewards for party and personal loyalty rather than having anything to do with the public trust. The practice of using political power for personal gain also helps explain how corruption appears to have become a permanent characteristic not only of the political system, but also of private enterprise.

Despite these characteristics, the two traditional parties have retained the support of the majority of the population. Popular support for the two traditional parties has been largely based on family identification, with, according to political scientist Donald Schulz, voting patterns passed on from generation to generation. According to McDonald and Ruhl, about 60 percent of voters are identified with the traditional parties, with the PLH having a 5 percent advantage over the PNH.

Traditionally, the PNH has had a stronger constituency in rural areas and in the less developed and southern agricultural departments, whereas the PLH has been traditionally stronger in the urban areas and in the more developed northern departments, although the party has had some rural strongholds. In a study of five Honduran elections from 1957 to 1981, James Morris observes that the PLH had a strong base of support in the five departments that made up the so-called central zone of the country--Atlántida, Cortés, Francisco Morazán, El Paraíso, and Yoro. The PNH had strong support in the more rural and isolated departments of Copán, Lempira, Intibucá, and Gracias a Dios, and the southern agricultural departments of Valle and Choluteca.

Looking more closely at the four national elections since 1980, one notices two facts: the PLH dominated the elections of 1980, 1981 and 1985, at times capturing departments considered PNH bulwarks (Choluteca and Valle), whereas the PNH crushed the PLH in the 1989 elections, winning all but two departments, one the traditional PLH stronghold of El Paraíso. Honduran scholar Julio Navarro has examined electoral results since 1980 and observes that in the 1989 elections the PNH won significantly not only at the department level but also at the municipal level. Of the 289 municipalities in 1989, the PNH captured 217, or about 75 percent of the country's municipalities.

According to political analysts, two significant factors helped bring about the success of the PNH in the 1989 elections: the cohesiveness and unity of the PNH and the disorder and internal factionalism of the PLH. The PLH has had a tradition of factionalism and internal party disputes. In the early 1980s, there were two formal factions: the conservative Rodista Liberal Movement (Movimiento Liberal Rodista--MLR), named for deceased party leader Modesto Rodas Alvarado and controlled by Roberto Suazo Córdova; and the center-left Popular Liberal Alliance (Alianza Liberal del Pueblo--Alipo), founded by brothers Carlos Roberto Reina and Jorge Arturo Reina. By 1985, however, there were five different factions of the PLH. Alipo had split with the Reina brothers to form the Revolutionary Liberal Democratic Movement (Movimiento Liberal Democrático Revolucionario--M-Lider), which represented a more strongly antimilitary platform, and another faction led by newspaper publisher Jaime Rosenthal retained the Alipo banner. The MLR split into three factions: one led by President Suazo Córdova, which supported Oscar Mejía Arellano as a 1985 presidential candidate; a second faction headed by Efraín Bu Girón, who also became a presidential candidate; and a third faction led by José Azcona Hoyo, who ultimately was elected president with the support of Alipo, which did not run a candidate. Only the complicated electoral process utilized in the 1985 elections, which combined party primaries and the general election, allowed the PLH to maintain control of the government.

Three PNH factions also vied for the presidency in the 1985 elections, but the National Movement of Rafael Callejas (Movimiento Nacionalista Rafael Callejas--Monarca) easily triumphed over factions led by Juan Pablo Urrutia and Fernando Lardizabel, with Callejas winning 45 percent of the total national vote and almost 94 percent of the PNH vote. PNH unity around the leadership of Callejas endured through the 1989 elections. Callejas was responsible for modernizing the organization of the PNH and incorporating diverse social and economic sectors into the party. As a result, in the 1989 elections he was able to break the myth of PLH inviolability that had been established in the three previous elections of the 1980s. In the 1989 contest, the PNH broke PLH strongholds throughout the country.

The PLH was not as successful as the PNH in achieving party unity for the 1989 elections. The PLH candidate, Carlos Flores Facusse, had survived a bruising four-candidate party primary in December 1988 in which he received 35.5 percent of the total vote. As noted by Julio Navarro, Flores was an extremely vulnerable candidate because in the primary he did not win major urban areas or departments considered PLH strongholds.

The electoral campaign for the November 1993 national elections was well underway by mid-1993. The PLH nominated Carlos Roberto Reina Idiáquez, a founder of M-Lider and former president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the leftist PLH faction. The PNH nominated conservative and controversial Osvaldo Ramos Soto, former Supreme Court president and former rector of the UNAH in the 1980s. As of mid-1993, public opinion polls showed the two candidates about even.

Reina won his party's nomination in elections on December 6, 1992, by capturing 47.5 percent of the vote in a six-candidate primary; second place was taken by newspaper publisher Rosenthal, who received 26.1 percent of the vote. Unlike the PLH primary of December 1988, the 1992 PLH nomination process demonstrated the party's strong support for Reina, who won in fourteen out of eighteen departments. Reina, who represented Honduras before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the border conflict with El Salvador, advocated a "moral revolution" in the country and vowed to punish those who enriched themselves through corruption.

The nomination process for the PNH was not an open process like that of the PLH, and a vote scheduled for November 29, 1993, served only to legalize the candidacy of Ramos Soto. The actual process of choosing the PNH candidate had occurred several months earlier, in July 1992, when the Monarca faction and the Ramos Soto faction struck a deal in which Ramos Soto was to be the candidate. The Monarca's presidential precandidate, Nora Gunera de Melgar (the widow of General Juan Alberto Melgar Castro, former head of state), was eliminated from consideration despite her objections. Other minor factions were not allowed to present their candidates.

In his campaign, Ramos Soto described himself as a "successful peasant" ("campesino superado"), alluding to his humble origins in order to gain popular support. Despite capturing the nomination, Ramos Soto encountered some resistance to his PNH candidacy, with some party members believing that his election would be a setback for the modernization program begun by President Callejas. Other Honduran sectors remembered Ramos Soto's reign as UNAH rector when he led a campaign to oust leftist student groups. Some human rights activists even claimed that Ramos Soto had collaborated with the military to assassinate leftists at the university.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress