Hondurans to vote for president, but Army likely to pick winner. US hopes for a model election could well be disappointed

The central square of Tegucigalpa, like that of many Latin American capitals, reflects a changing city. The plain, white 19th-century cathedral, the classically-inspired fountain supported by three stone women in tunics, and the statues of national heroes on horseback are all that remain of the old colonial-style capital. The nondescript low, modern buildings which surround most of the square are reminders of the city's rapid growth.

Last Saturday night, that square was filled with a large crowd of mostly young Hondurans cheerfully awaiting the arrival of Rafael Leonardo Callejas, one of the front-runners of Honduras's presidential campaign.

As a salsa band on a speaker's platform played campaign songs sounding like the latest dance hits, and vendors sold grilled meat and tortillas at bargain prices, the atmosphere seemed more like a party than an election.

But the campaigns of the major candidates, which have evoked much popular interest, belie the fact that Sunday's elections seem headed for complications.

The electoral process is currently marred by a complex political and constitutional impasse. Most Hondur-ans blame the impasse on the attempts of outgoing President Roberto Suazo C'ordova to control the presidency.

Less than a week before the election, Hondurans do not know which of two completely different electoral processes will be used to determine who their next president will be. But whatever the outcome of the election, the Honduran Army will likely pick the winner.

If this occurs it will be a blow to Washington, which hopes that the election in this closely allied Central American country will be a model one. There are several United States military bases here. US and Honduran troops have held joint military maneuvers for the past two years. Honduras plays a key role in the US's policy to contain the leftist Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. US-backed ``contras'' have waged attacks on Nicaragua from southern Honduras since 1981. The contras are rebel s fighting the Nicaraguan government.

Traditionally in Honduras, the candidate who received the most votes won. Under this system it is generally expected that Mr. Callejas, the National Party candidate, will win. But under the competing system, designed last spring, the candidate who receives the most votes from the party which receives the most votes wins.

The new electoral system was the result of a pact between the country's leading political parties and armed forces officers. The pact was provoked by President Suazo's attempts to fiddle with the electoral process.

It is speculated that if the new system is used, a candidate from the ruling Liberal Party will be the next president. The Liberal Party is divided and has four candidates. The front-runner is Jos'e Ascona.

The pact was seen as one way of blocking the presidential ambitions of outgoing President Suazo. Under the Honduran Constitution, Suazo cannot seek reelection, although he would like to. Suazo is backing his close prot'eg'e, Oscar Mej'ia Arellano. Mr. Mej'ia is the only one of the four Liberal Party candidates who support Suazo.

When the pact was agreed upon last spring, it seemed fairly noncontroversial, diplomatic observers here say. It was almost certain that one of the four candidates of the divided ruling Liberal Party would win the most votes. But the sudden popularity of the National Party candidate, Callejas, has surprised everyone here.

Callejas, a businessman from an upper-class family, is a controversial figure. He has successfully projected himself as, ``a Kennedy-like figure, young, energetic, and flexible: a sensible businessman who would reorganize the economy,'' a foreign analyst says.

But some Hondurans are upset by what one academic here called Callejas's ``disturbing past connections.'' Callejas was a ranking member of APROH (the Association for the Progress of Honduras), which was a civic organization created by wealthy businessmen who supported Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Mart'inez. Gen. Alvarez was the right-wing chief of the armed forces until his overthrow in March 1984.

Critics here charge that APROH was a ``dictatorial instrument'' of Gen. Alvarez's which, along the lines of the ``Fascist'' ideas of the ``corporate'' state, attempted to force various sectors of Honduran society, such as labor unions and professional organizations, to support for Alvarez. APROH was also accused of financing human rights abuses which occurred under Alvarez.

But no one has accused Callejas of either direct or indirect participation in human rights abuses.

Many Hondurans consider Callejas a change from what is almost universally regarded as the stagnation and corruption of the present government. As Adan, a young Honduran construction worker said, ``I'm voting for Callejas because I've had enough of Suazo. Callejas is the only one who can get the economy running again.''

Most political analysts here are concerned that although Callejas may win more votes than any other candidate, his party -- the National Party -- will receive fewer votes than the Liberal Party and consequently lose the election. With four different candidates, the Liberal Party is likely to gain the most votes.

The National Electoral Tribunal has yet to determine which electoral system will be used for the elections. It will have to decide whether the pact to elect the leading candidate of the party which gets most votes is constitutional. If it says the pact is legal, Mr. Ascona of the Liberal Party will probably be declared president. It is speculated that Ascona will receive the most votes.

But if the Electoral Tribunal declares the arrangement unconstitutional and uses the traditional method of the candidate with the most votes winning, then Callejas, should he receive the most votes, would win.

Under the new system, another, more remote, possibility is that the Liberal Party candidate with the most votes will be Suazo's proteg'e, Mr. Mej'ia. If Mej'ia wins, many here say it will be because Suazo's administration padded the voter registration lists with his supporters.

But the ultimate decision will have to be made by the ranking Army officers since, according to Honduran and foreign analysts interviewed, the Electoral Tribunal is controlled by the armed forces.

It seems that Callejas has more support among the military than Ascona does, most foreign and Honduran political analysts here say.

Despite efforts to hold a democratic election, this presidential contest will probably revert to the old Honduran tradition of the country's leaders being picked by military backroom deals, say political analysts here.

A major concern for Hondurans is whether the losing party will accept the Army's and Tribunal's decision or will the decision provoke an outburst, perhaps violent?

The leading candidates are essentially conservative. Their tendency would be to continue the US policy of using Honduras as a base from which the contras attack the Sandinistas. From the US point of view, there will be little change no matter which candidate wins.

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