By David Alire Garcia and Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Left-wing opposition candidate Xiomara Castro declared victory in Sunday’s Honduran presidential election, with early results giving her a dominant lead and setting her on track to become the country’s first female leader. Central American country.
With 40% of the vote counted, Castro, wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, held 53.5%, while Nasry Asfura, the ruling National Party candidate, held 34%, according to preliminary council results. national electoral system.
Castro, 62, was competing in a squad of more than a dozen candidates, and his supporters hailed a triumph that would end a dozen years of Tory rule and return the left to power for the first time since the dismissal of Zelaya in a coup in 2009.
In a brief victory speech, Castro vowed to form a government of “reconciliation” and to strengthen direct democracy with referendums – a tool that left-wing President of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has used repeatedly.
“There will be no more abuse of power in this country,” said Castro, dressed in a red jacket and flanked by the 2017 presidential vice president, popular television host Salvador Nasralla, who has joined her. list as a candidate for vice-presidency.
The results seemed to be heading for a much clearer result than in previous elections, when irregularities in the vote count sparked deadly protests and led incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez to controversially win a second term.
After the polls closed, National Party officials quickly claimed victory after what the electoral council called a historic turnout. Yet Asfura himself had pledged earlier to honor the voters’ verdict in the vote.
Castro, the leader of opinion polls since his alliance with Nasralla in October, has sought to unify opposition to Hernandez, who has denied accusations of having links to powerful gangs, despite an open investigation in the United States Linking him to alleged drug trafficking.
“We cannot stay at home. Now is our time. Now is the time to end the dictatorship,” Castro said just after the vote in the town of Catacamas, beset by journalists.
She urged voters to report any issues encountered and said international observers https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/honduras-parties-flag-fears-fraud-ahead-pivotal-vote-2021-11 -27 would help to ensure a fair vote.
Asfura, a wealthy businessman https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/honduran-ruling-party-hopeful-asfura-faces-uphill-climb-2021-11-26 and mayor of the capital two mandates, had tried in the campaign to distance himself from Hernandez and the controversies that engulfed him.
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 declined.
Central America is also a key transit point for drug trafficking, and where concerns have also grown over increasingly authoritarian governments.
The vote sparked a diplomatic scramble between Beijing and Washington after Castro said she would open diplomatic ties with China, putting less emphasis on ties with US-backed Taiwan.
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 JosÃ© 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 was very significant. 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.
âHonestly, it’s not like there are such great options,â she said, adding that she was very skeptical of a clean vote.
âI don’t think so,â she said. “This is Honduras.”
National and international election observers monitored the vote, including the European Union mission of 68 members.
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 ended tightly, if a large number of complaints were filed and raised suspicions of large-scale fraud.
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.
âI hope Tito Asfura can change everything,â he said, using the mayor’s nickname.
“Look, corruption is in all governments here.”
(Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Gustavo Palencia; writing by Dave Graham; editing by Shri Navaratnam and Stephen Coates)