Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro, the first woman to lead the Central American nation, is awaiting results of tough legislative races to see if her left-wing party gains control of Congress, a day after her main rival defeat conceded.
With the right-wing National Party’s 12-year power grab coming to an end when Castro is inaugurated in January, attention shifted on Wednesday to the fate of the 128-member congress.
The congressional balance sheet is in the air, but preliminary results appear to point to the possibility of a simple majority for Castro’s party and its allies – if the trend of the current vote count holds.
This will facilitate the passage of some of Castro’s legislative priorities, but her promise to convene a meeting to rewrite the Honduran constitution could still be blocked as it would require a two-thirds majority.
Denis Gomez, a former election councilor, estimated that Castro’s Free Party would win 51 seats, while his main ally, the party of elected Vice President Salvador Nasralla, would get 14, giving the ruling coalition a majority of one member.
But Gomez stressed that this projected composition of the one-chamber legislature could still change as the trend in the score shifts.
It is unclear when the final vote count will be announced.
“If that majority does not hold, they will have to negotiate,” he said, most likely with the center-right Liberal Party, which is expected to form the third largest bloc in the next Congress after the National Party.
Political analyst Raul Pineda was less cautious about Castro’s influence on incoming lawmakers. He said her party, which works with the vice president’s party, would “have a simple majority to reform or repeal laws”.
But Castro and her allies will have to shell out nearly 20 more votes, most likely from the Liberal Party, to reach a two-thirds majority for constitutional reforms, Pineda added.
The same super-majority would also be needed to elect new members of the Supreme Court and a new Attorney General.
Challenges and opportunities
In addition to political strife in Congress, Castro will face other major challenges as she takes on the role of president in the Central American country.
Unemployment is more than 10 percent, northern Honduras was devastated by two major hurricanes last year, and street gangs dragged the economy with blackmail and violence, drives migration to the United States.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken congratulated Castro on Tuesday night on her victory and said he was looking forward to working with her to “strengthen democratic institutions, promote inclusive economic growth and fight corruption”.
The Honduran people exercised their power to vote in a free and fair election. We congratulate them and the elected president @XiomaraCastroZ and looks forward to working together to strengthen democratic institutions, promote inclusive economic growth and fight corruption.
– Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) 1 December 2021
Castro’s government may offer challenges, but also opportunities for the administration of US President Joe Biden, who sought to keep her predecessor at arm’s length over concerns about corruption and ties to drug gangs.
Many Castro supporters remember the US government’s initial reluctance to name the 2009 overthrow of Castro’s husband Manuel Zelaya from the presidency. Suddenly, and then continue to work closely with the National Party presidents who followed.
From the American perspective, Washington remembers how Castro and Zelaya hung out with then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
But analysts say common ground between Castro and the U.S. government exists in at least three areas: immigration, drug trafficking and corruption. And with strained relations between Washington and the leaders of El Salvador and Guatemala, the U.S. government can use a productive relationship with Honduras.
Despite opponents ‘efforts to portray Castro as a communist, experts expected her to rule as a centrist with a desire to uplift Honduras’ poor while attracting foreign investment.
In a speech in June, Castro promised to propose a plan to the Biden administration to “combat and address the true causes of migration”.
Castro describes Hondurans’ emigration in terms of flight to escape inequality, corruption, poverty and violence. It does not differ too much from how senior officials in the Biden administration raised the issue, and where they said they wanted to focus US aid.
But Castro also places some of the blame on the U.S. government.
“I believe the Biden administration has an enormous opportunity to address the issue of migration,” Castro said in the June speech. “First, acknowledge that they have a share of the responsibility for what is happening in our country,” she added, noting the 2009 coup.
Castro has slammed the administration of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez over corruption.
It was Hernandez’s administration that caused the Organization of American States’ anti-corruption mission in Honduras to lapse in 2020 after his work touched some of the National Party’s lawmakers on alleged misuse of public funds.
She said she was interested in returning an international anti-corruption mission to Honduras. This, combined with a strong, independent attorney general, could start tackling one of the country’s deepest problems.
U.S. federal prosecutors have investigated corruption in drug trafficking cases involving high-ranking Honduran politicians. Most notable was the conviction of Hernandez’s brother, a former federal lawmaker, on drug trafficking charges he deserved. life imprisonment in the US.