Honduras President Hernandez sworn in amid protests

Juan Orlando Hernandez takes oath of office for a second term amid protests against a bitterly disputed election.

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    Tegucigalpa - Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was sworn in for a second term amid protests over what the opposition calls "electoral fraud". 

    Hernandez's inauguration on Saturday comes under the shadow of more than 30 deaths related to the political upheaval in the country since the end of November. 

    Hernandez, accused of stealing the presidential election to consolidate what critics dub a dictatorship, had promised an "austere" and brief inauguration on Saturday.

    Speaking to supporters gathered in the heavily guarded national stadium in Tegucigalpa, the National Party president vowed to work to create jobs, tackle violent crime, and fight corruption.

    Up against a line of military police and national police blocks away, opposition supporters carrying red and white flags of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship and left-wing Libre party shouted, "Out with JOH".

    The chant has been the rallying cry of demonstrations against alleged fraud in the November 26 vote that plunged the country into its worst political crisis since a military coup in 2009.

    Luis Gustavo, who had a white bandana on his face, marched with opposition supporters. 

    "We youth need jobs, education, a better life. This government has us up against the wall," the 24-year-old told Al Jazeera. "This government is a dictatorship."

    Opposition supporters marched in Tegucigalpa chanting, "Out with JOH" [Eduardo Verdugo/AP]

    Gustavo rejected the government slogan that claims, "Honduras is changing". 

    But supporters attending the inauguration embraced it.

    "We know these four more years will be another push forward for our country," Famo Antonio Diaz, a National Party supporter from the interior department of La Paz, told Al Jazeera outside the stadium before the inauguration.

    "The economy has picked up, crime has reduced, and there have been many achievements with the Vida Mejor programme."

    Unstable ground

    The European Union election observation mission questioned the lack of distinction between government resources, including social programmes, and National Party coffers in the election campaign.

    The contested vote count saw the incumbent president leap over what had appeared to be an insurmountable five percent lead for his challenger, sportscaster-turned-politician Salvador Nasralla of the Opposition Alliance.

    The statistically unlikely turn came after a series of irregularities, including computer malfunctions and lengthy blackouts in the release of results.

    In a report, commissioned by the Organization of American States, Georgetown University's Irfan Nooruddin argued that a sharp change in vote patterns between early and late-reporting precincts was consistent with claims that the votes counted last were tampered with.

    The electoral commission, led by a National Party member, declared Hernandez the winner by 50,000 votes three weeks after election day. The announcement only further spurred protests, which paralysed major roads, particularly in the northern part of the country where Hernandez faces the greatest opposition.

    Supporters of President Hernandez carried banners that read "United for Peace" [AFP]

    Political analyst Victor Meza told Al Jazeera that high disapproval for Hernandez and distrust in the election outcome put the executive on unstable ground.

    "As the new government is a product of electoral fraud and also the product of an illegal re-election, the origin of new government is tainted with two serious problems that affect its credibility and legitimacy," said Meza, director of the Center for Honduran Documentation.

    "If its legitimacy and credibility are so weak, then the conclusion is that its governability will be very precarious and weak," he added.

    Back at Saturday's anti-government march, opposition supporter Amanda Cruz, dressed in red of the opposition Libre party with a Honduran flag draped over her shoulders, agreed.

    "This isn't an inauguration, it's an imposition of an illegal president elected through fraud," she told Al Jazeera.

    "They waste money on tear gas when this country doesn't even have medicine in our hospitals," she added, referring to the corruption scandal implicating the National Party in a multimillion embezzlement scandal in the crumbling public health system. The fraud scheme allegedly benefited Hernandez' 2013 election campaign.

    Security forces deployed tear gas against opposition protesters before the march and once it reached the stadium as Hernandez was wrapping up his address.

    Some demonstrators threw rocks at the windows of buses that transported National Party supporters to the event.

    Security forces deployed tear gas at the opposition march [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

    Saturday's march followed a week of rallies that gained only a fraction of last month's strength and took place under heavy presence of state forces. 

    National and international human rights organisations have raised alarm over the police and military's excessive and lethal use of force against demonstrators, including firing tear gas, water cannon, and live ammunition.

    The human rights organisation the Committee of the Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) reported at least 30 people were killed in the political crisis by the end of December.

    Analyst Meza predicted that both protests and the state crackdown will continue, albeit in more dispersed forms throughout the country.

    "A government as weak as this doesn't have any other option but repression to be able keep itself in power," he said. "It doesn't have any public credibility, it doesn't have a real social base."

    Dialogue? 

    Hernandez has promoted a national dialogue as a way out of the crisis, but failed to engage the opposition in talks. The president sent a letter to the UN this week asking for "technical support" to facilitate a dialogue.

    The opposition has criticised the gesture for government-led dialogue as disingenuous and demanded "binding" international mediation.

    "I'm not going to sit down to dialogue if the mediator doesn't have the power to impose what they decide," Nasralla told Al Jazeera at the opposition rally in Tegucigalpa on Saturday.

    Nasralla, who lowered his profile and distanced himself from the Opposition Alliance following Washington's endorsement of the election results last month, has continued to claim the election was rigged.

    The Organization of American States secretary-general called for new elections, but then expressed its "firm intention" to work with the new government. The US, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and other countries have recognised Hernandez' win.

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    Hernandez is the first Honduran president to serve a second term in office, as the Constitution prohibits presidential re-election. A controversial 2015 ruling from the country's top court, stacked with judges friendly to Hernandez' conservative National Party, threw out the ban on re-election on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

    Hernandez has pledged to reign in violent crime and boost the economy by attracting foreign investment.

    His Honduras 20/20 plan promises to create 600,000 jobs in five years with a focus on the tourism, textiles, manufacturing and business support services sectors.

    According to World Bank data, Honduras is the most unequal country in Latin America. Home to nine million people, it also one of the poorest and most violent countries in the region.

    Honduras: Blood and the Water

    Fault Lines

    Honduras: Blood and the Water

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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