Honduras votes and leads leftists’ bid to end 12-year conservative rule By Reuters

© Reuters. Chiomara Castro, presidential candidate for the opposition Liber Party, speaks during the closing rally of her election campaign in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on November 20, 2021. REUTERS/Yusuf Amaya/File Photo


By David Aller Garcia and Gustavo Palencia

Tegucigalpa (Reuters) – Hondurans headed to the polls on Sunday to choose a new president, with leftist candidate Xiomara Castro hoping to oust the right-wing National Party, whose 12-year rule has been plagued by corruption scandals, chronic unemployment and waves of corruption. fleeing immigrants.

If she wins, Castro will become the country’s first female president and signal the left’s return to power for the first time since her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup.

She won support from voters for her efforts to bolster opposition to outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has denied accusations of links to powerful gangs, among other corruption scandals. Recent opinion polls have cemented her position as the favorite to win.

The elections are the latest flashpoint of political tension in Central America, a major source of immigrants heading to the United States and a major transit point for drug smuggling, and where concerns about increasingly authoritarian governments have grown.

Castro’s main rival is the National Party’s Nasri Asfoura, a wealthy businessman and two-term mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa, who has tried to distance himself from the unpopular incumbent.

Hernandez’s contested 2017 re-election, and subsequent ugly results, loom large over Sunday’s vote.

Widespread reports of irregularities sparked bloody protests that claimed more than two dozen lives, but Hernandez’s election victory was eventually ratified by the allies on the Electoral Council. Days later, the government of then US President Donald Trump endorsed him.

A large number of national and international election observers are scheduled to observe the voting process on Sunday, including an 80-person delegation from the Washington-based Organization of American States led by former Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis.

“The voice of the Honduran people must be respected and the process must not lead to violence,” Solis told Reuters.

About 5.2 million Hondurans are entitled to vote.

Pre-election tension was evident in some neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa late Saturday, as some businesses shuttered storefront windows and at least two car dealers located in an area near the president’s offices emptied many cars. The neighborhood has been the scene of loud protests in the past.

Since the primary elections in March, political violence has already claimed 31 lives, including local candidates and activists from all three main parties: Castro Liber’s, the National Party, as well as the centrist Liberal Party.

The latter was once part of a long-running two-party duopoly alongside the National Party, but it has slipped to a distant third place in most polls. Its presidential candidate is Yanni Rosenthal, a former cabinet minister who recently returned to Honduras after serving a three-year prison sentence in the United States after pleading guilty to money laundering.

In addition to the presidential race, voters also decide to make up the country’s 128-member Congress, as well as officials from about 300 local governments.

Polls open at 7 AM and close at 5 PM but can be extended by 1 hour depending on the lines. Preliminary results are expected around 9 pm

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