THE BLOG

The Next President of Honduras: Juan Orlando Hernández

Okay, it's over. With at least 66.7 percent of the 3,233,000 votes cast in Sunday's presidential election in Honduras counted and reported, it is abundantly clear now that National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández is the winner. For those who still wish to bitch and moan about the result... get over it. There's a lot of work to do; Honduras is still the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and it has the highest homicide rate. Mr. Hernández currently leads with 34.08 percent of the votes, followed by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya with 28.92 percent, Mauricio Villeda of the Liberal Party with 20.70 percent, and Salvador Nasralla with 15.64 percent. The other four candidates are not even worth mentioning because together they account for less than 1 percent. In truth, it was probably over on Sunday evening when Mr. Hernández gave his victory speech.

Although at the time less than 50 percent of the votes cast had been counted, there was an obvious trend in Mr. Hernández's favor, and it was difficult to imagine that things were going to dramatically change against him. While a sudden swing in favor of his nearest opponents was not impossible, it seemed unlikely, particularly given that Mr. Hernández represents the party that is currently in power. Ruling parties in Latin America do not allow the tide of elections to shift away from them at the last minute. As Mr. Hernández said yesterday, "Triumphs are not negotiated with anyone." Right he is.

Just about everyone under the Sun has been congratulating Mr. Hernández on his victory, including all the international observers who oversaw the voting process, the U.S. government, Spain, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama. Even Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua has congratulated Mr. Hernández. That one sealed it. If the most left-wing president in Latin America has accepted the right-wing Mr. Hernández, then it must be time to move on. To top it off, the Organization of American States (O.A.S.) today ratified that the elections were transparent and fair. Neither the Zelayas and Libre or Salvador Nasralla of the PAC appear ready to pack it in yet, and they will continue to make noise, but this contest is at an end... and everyone (including the Zelayas and Mr. Nasralla) knows it. Whatever accusations of fraud or "irregularities" there are, they will gradually start to fade during the next three weeks.

The accusations will remain in the background much longer and will make it difficult, if not impossible, for Mr. Hernández to achieve any sort of reconciliation with the opposition. But reconciliation was always a pipe dream anyways, given the radically different agendas of the conservative Nationalists and the socialists within Libre. Other than a vaguely-defined anti-corruption platform, it's unclear what else Mr. Nasralla stood for, so it's hard to tell how much trouble PAC supporters will pose for the Hernández government.

In any case, absolutely nobody should envy Mr. Hernández. He has an enormous task ahead of him, and he will no longer be able to credibly blame former president Manuel Zelaya and the Liberal Party for the mess in which they left Honduras in 2010. That was a frequent tactic of Mr. Hernández during his campaign. Now he can only blame his Nationalist predecessor, President Lobo, and some of the key ministers who served in the Lobo administration who will undoubtedly also find posts in the Hernández administration -- individuals such as Oscar Álvarez, who was Mr. Lobo's Minister of Security and who has been Mr. Hernández's campaign chief. Mr. Hernández has consistently promised that he will bring in a whole new crop of people to fill the leadership positions within his government, and he has repeatedly stressed that he will not tolerate incompetence and laziness. It's a promise that was made by all of the other presidential candidates as well.

The dilemma for Mr. Hernández -- and for all of Honduras -- is that the country has a limited amount of civil service talent. So many people who end up in ministerial and sub-ministerial positions within government do not have executive experience and lack the temperament and creative skills to successfully administer unwieldy, under-funded and corrupt bureaucracies and solve extremely complex problems. Ergo the eternal plague of poor governance. It is likely that we'll see many of the same faces in a Hernández government that we've seen in past Nationalist governments. Recycling political leaders is a well-rehearsed procedure in Honduras.

Perhaps the young and energetic (he's only 45 years old) Mr. Hernández will be able to bring out the best in his team and overcome some of the critical challenges facing the country. I wish him well and hope that he will not have to endure the endless headaches suffered by Mr. Lobo due to his "maldita burocracia" (accursed bureaucracy). Perhaps this country boy from the poorest department in Honduras -- Lempira -- has the answers that have thus far evaded those who have been raised in the big cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula and have been used to moving with ease within their high societies.