Opposition advances after “huge” turnout in Honduran elections | Election News


Preliminary results of the presidential elections in Honduras showed that opposition candidate Xiomara Castro is clearly ahead of conservative ruling party rival Nasri Asfoura, after both sides declared victory after the polls closed on Sunday.

With votes counted from just over 16 percent of the ballot boxes, the National Electoral Council said, Castro had 53.4 percent, while Asfoura got 34 percent.

If the opposition’s standard-bearer wins, she would become Honduras’ first female president and return the left to power for the first time since her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup.

The Electoral Council said earlier that more than 2.7 million voters had already cast their ballots, a number described in a statement as a “high turnout” with more votes yet to be counted.

Council President Kelvin Aguirre said the initial turnout was already higher than the 2017 total. But nearly 8 percent of 5,755 polling stations had problems transferring votes with electoral authorities, which was expected to delay results.

The strong voter turnout raised expectations for change after more than a decade of National Party rule.

Long queues formed at many polling stations in Honduras, raising expectations of a change of government [Orlando Sierra/AFP]

Leftwing Castro has sought to unite opposition to outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has denied accusations of ties to powerful gangs, despite an open investigation in the United States linking him to alleged drug trafficking.

After teaming up with the 2017 runner-up, a popular TV presenter, most polls cemented her position as the number one candidate.

“We can’t stay at home. This is our moment. This is the moment to drive out the dictatorship,” Castro said, amid protests to journalists after the vote in the town of Catacamas.

Long queues can be seen at many polling stations across the country, where about 5.2 million Hondurans are eligible to vote.

The elections are the latest flashpoint of political tension in Central America, and a major source of immigrants and refugees heading to the United States fleeing chronic unemployment and gang violence. Honduras is among the world’s most violent countries, although murder rates have been declining recently.

Central America is also a major transit point for drug smuggling, and where concerns about increasingly authoritarian governments are rising.

The election also sparked a diplomatic conflict between Beijing and Washington after Castro said it would open diplomatic ties with China, downplaying ties with Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims.

This is Honduras.

Castro’s main rival among the 13 presidential candidates on the ballot is Asfora of the National Party, a wealthy businessman and two-term mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa, who has tried to distance himself from the unpopular incumbent. He sought to portray his opponent as an extremist.

After casting his vote, the calculated Asfoura said he would respect the electorate’s judgment.

“Whatever the people of Honduras ultimately want,” he said, “I will respect that.”

Some voters consulted by Reuters news agency expressed dissatisfaction with their choices, but many others clearly favored.

“I am against all corruption, poverty and drug trafficking,” said Jose Gonzalez, 27, a mechanic who said he would vote for Castro.

Looming on Hernandez’s contested re-election in 2017, and the ugly aftermath. Widespread reports of irregularities sparked protests that killed more than two dozen people, but he has dismissed allegations of fraud and called for a re-vote.

Alexa Sanchez, a 22-year-old medical student, relaxed on a bench right after the vote while listening to music on her headphones and said she voted reluctantly for Castro.

“Honestly, it’s not like there are such good options,” she said, adding that she was very skeptical that the vote would be clean.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “This is Honduras.”

If opposition candidate Chiomara Castro wins, she will become Honduran’s first female president and return the left to power for the first time since her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a 2009 coup. [Jose Cabezas/Reuters]
The ruling party candidate, Nasri Asfoura, a wealthy businessman and mayor of the capital, has tried to distance himself from the current unpopular president, Juan Orlando Hernandez. [Fredy Rodriguez/Reuters]

Several national and international election observers monitored Sunday’s vote, including the 68-member European Union mission.

Ziljana Zovko, the EU’s chief observer, told reporters at midday that her team had seen mostly a quiet vote with a high turnout, although most polling stations they visited opened their doors late.

“The campaign has been very difficult,” said Julita Castellanos, a sociologist and former dean of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, noting that Castro “raised great expectations.”

Castellanos said post-election violence was possible if the race proved to be particularly tight, if a large number of complaints were lodged, or if candidates declared victory prematurely.

Besides the presidency, voters also decide on the composition of the country’s 128-member Congress, as well as officials from about 300 local governments.

In the working-class Kennedy neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, 56-year-old accountant Jose, who declined to give his surname, said he would stick with the ruling party.

“I hope Tito Asfora can change everything,” he said, using the mayor’s title.

“Look, here is corruption in all governments.”





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