Opposition candidate takes big early lead in Honduras election
By Anatoly Kurmanaev
The opposition candidate in Honduras’ presidential election, Xiomara Castro, held a commanding lead in initial results Sunday, as she promised to overhaul a state permeated by graft and organized crime.
Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, a leftist former president deposed in a 2009 coup, led the government’s candidate by nearly 20 percentage points with 39% of the ballot counted. If elected, Castro would become the first woman to lead Honduras, as well as the country’s first president to be democratically elected on a socialist platform.
Castro had 53% of the vote, compared with 34% for Nasry Asfura, the candidate from the incumbent National Party. That party has refused to concede, telling supporters that their candidate would emerge victorious after all the votes have been counted.
Hondurans flocked to the polls in near-record numbers to decide the successor of the deeply unpopular current president, Juan Orlando Hernández. Hernández’s presence was palpable at the polls after his government spent the past eight years dismantling the country’s democratic institutions and allowing corruption and organized crime to permeate the highest levels of power.
The final results will most likely take days. The country’s electoral council and electoral observers have urged candidates to avoid declaring victory until all the votes were in.
Castro defied them, telling jubilant supporters at her campaign headquarters Sunday night that she would begin forming a government of national reconciliation starting Monday.
“We have turned back authoritarianism,” Castro, 62, said. “Out with corruption, out with drug trafficking, out with organized crime.”
Hundreds of her supporters poured into the streets of the capital of Tegucigalpa on Sunday night, setting off fireworks in celebration. Local television showed images of small crowds chanting “Juanchi, you’re off to New York!” a reference to the accusations made against Hernández in at least two drug trafficking cases conducted by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York. Hernández disputes the allegations.
Hondurans cast their vote in a largely peaceful, orderly election that was, nonetheless, marred by deep polarization, technological shortfalls and fears of fraud.
Voter turnout this time around was the highest in more than two decades, but few held out hope that anything fundamental might change in a country worn down by corruption and violence.
“I hope that these elections will be transparent, that there won’t be the same vote-buying as always,” said Dina Padilla, who voted in the working-class neighborhood of Pedregal in Tegucigalpa.
The election will test the council’s ability to deliver credible results following a profound overhaul of the electoral system after 2017.
The chief of the Organization of American States’ electoral observation mission, former President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica, called the vote “a beautiful example of citizen participation,” noting the high turnout.
Some voters complained of not being able to cast their ballot because of the recent cull of the electoral roll. The process eliminated nearly 1 million people, which the overhaul’s proponents said rid the system of the deceased or emigrated voters whose data were utilized for electoral fraud.
The vote was also marred by outages of the electoral council’s website, which was down for most of the day, breeding fraud conspiracies. The council said it was investigating whether the outage had been caused by a cyberattack, without providing additional details.
In 2017, the opposition also led the early returns, albeit by a much smaller margin, and ended up losing in the final count. Observers said that election was marred by widespread irregularities.