Left-wing opposition runs for big lead in Honduran election vote count


TEGUCIGALPA, Nov.28 (Reuters) – Left-wing opposition candidate Xiomara Castro quickly won the Honduran presidential election on Sunday, partial election results showed, putting her in pole position to become the country’s first female leader. Central American country.

With over 27% of the vote counted, Castro, the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, had 53.7% of support, while Nasry Asfura, the ruling National Party candidate had 33.8%, said the national electoral council.

Castro’s victory would end a dozen years of conservative rule and bring the Honduran left back to power for the first time since Zelaya’s impeachment in a coup in 2009.

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Castro’s supporters hailed the early results as proof of triumph. Yet the National Party and its Liberté et Refondation (Libre) party claimed victory after a polling day that saw a historic turnout, the electoral council said.

Castro has sought to unify opposition to incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who has denied accusations of having ties to powerful gangs, despite an open investigation in the United States linking him to suspected drug trafficking.

After allying with the 2017 finalist, a popular TV host, most polls had bolstered her status as a favorite.

“We cannot stay at home. This is our time. This is the time to end the dictatorship,” Castro said, assailed by reporters just after voting in the town of Catacamas.

The candidate said she was confident voters would report any issues they saw and that international observers would also help ensure a fair vote.

LAST FLASHING POINT

The election is the latest political flashpoint in Central America, a major source of migrants to the United States fleeing chronic unemployment and gang violence. Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world, although homicide rates have recently fallen.

Central America is also a key transit point for drug trafficking, and where concerns have grown over increasingly authoritarian governments.

The vote also sparked diplomatic scrambles between Beijing and Washington after Castro said she would open diplomatic ties with China, putting less emphasis on ties with the U.S.-backed Taiwan.

Castro’s main rival among the 13 presidential candidates on the ballot is Asfura of the National Party, a wealthy businessman and mayor of the capital for two terms, who has tried to distance himself from the incumbent unpopular. Read more

After voting, a measured Asfura said he would respect the voters’ verdict.

“Whatever the Honduran people want in the end, I will respect it,” he said.

Some voters consulted by Reuters expressed dissatisfaction with their choices, but many others clearly had favorites.

“I am against all corruption, poverty and drug trafficking,” said José Gonzalez, 27, a mechanic who said he was voting for Castro.

‘THIS IS HONDURAS’

Hernandez’s contested re-election in 2017 and its horrendous aftermath looms large. Numerous reports of irregularities sparked protests that claimed the lives of more than two dozen people, but he dismissed the fraud allegations and called for a new vote.

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

“Honestly, it’s not like there are such great options,” she said, adding that she was very skeptical of a clean vote.

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

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

Zeljana Zovko, the EU’s chief observer, told reporters around noon that her team mostly witnessed a calm vote with a high turnout, although most of the polling stations visited were open late.

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

Castellanos said post-election violence is possible if the race is particularly tight, if a large number of complaints are filed that raise suspicions of large-scale fraud, or if candidates declare themselves the winners prematurely.

Along with the presidency, voters also decide the composition of the country’s 128 members of Congress, as well as officials from some 300 local governments.

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

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

“Look, corruption is in all governments here.”

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Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, David Gregorio, Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft & Shri Navaratnam

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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