The second-place presidential candidate in the 24 November Honduran election, Xiomara Castro, is claiming fraud. The official results show a widened lead for the winner, Juan Orlando Hernandez, compared to what was reported the day after the election: now at 36.8% to 28.8%.
Vote compilations released by Castro’s Libre party show substantial discrepancies compared to the official results. However, the claimed irregularities amount to only about half the official margin. Thus even if accurate, they would not change the result.
Honduras elects its president by plurality. One might wonder if the traditional parties–Hernandez’s National Party and the weakened Liberals–might now work towards the implementation of some form of two-round system for future presidential elections.
Had a runoff been required in this year’s election, there is little doubt that Hernandez would have won. In a second round, he would have received the bulk of the Liberal vote, which was 20.3%, making for a likely comfortable majority. Even the votes of the other debutant party in this election, Salvador Nasralla’s Anti-Corrpution Party, on 13.5%, would put Castro clearly short of half the vote–even if we assume that Castro’s “real” vote was more like 33%.
The situation is somewhat analogous to Uruguay in the 1990s. Like Honduras, Uruguay is one of the Latin American countries in which two “traditional” parties survived, and dominated, the longest. Uruguay likewise elected its president by plurality (actually an “open list” whereby the winner was the plurality candidate within the party that had the overall plurality, a system also used in Honduras on a one-off basis in 1985). With the threat of a rising new party on the left, the traditional parties moved to a two-round majority system (with primaries to set each party’s nominee). At first it worked as a means to block the upstart, with the traditional parties combining to win a runoff in 1999 against the Broad Front candidate who had a plurality (40% to 33%) in the first round. Then, in 2004, the Broad Front was able to win a first-round majority and elect the president. (Another Broad Front candidate was elected in 2009, this time requiring two rounds.)
Such a trajectory may be the best Honduras can hope for. Of course, Honduras is not Uruguay, in many respects. But the old two-party system now has broken down, and new parties are knocking on the door. The adoption of a runoff for presidential elections may be necessary not only for the power-preserving interests of the traditional parties, but also to prevent a future regime-threatening crisis of legitimacy–assuming, that is, that the country’s democracy gets past the current, likely spurious, claims of the loser in this year’s plurality contest.