Tue, Dec 05, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Honduran vote tilts toward incumbent

‘NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE’:The opposition candidate’s five-point lead disappeared after an inexplicable pause in counting, as largely peaceful protesters rallied nationwide


Salvador Nasralla, presidential candidate for the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, speaks to his supporters during a protest in Tegucigalpa on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Electoral authorities in Honduras yesterday seemed poised to hand the president a second term even after tens of thousands took to the streets in the biggest protests yet over suspected vote count fraud since last week’s disputed election.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez called for his supporters to wait for a final count as opposition protesters flooded streets across the nation to decry what they called a dictatorship.

As night fell on Sunday, the sound of plastic horns, honking cars, fireworks and beaten saucepans echoed over the capital Tegucigalpa, challenging a military curfew imposed to clamp down on protests that have spread since last week.

Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla earlier in the day addressed a giant rally in the capital, calling on the armed forces to rebel against orders to enforce the curfew and encouraging supporters to walk out on a national strike starting yesterday.

“I call on all members of the armed forces to rebel against your bosses,” Nasralla told a cheering throng of supporters who booed nearby troops. “You all over there, you shouldn’t be there, you should be part of the people.”

Nasralla has accused the government of trying to steal last week’s election. TV images showed similar protests in other major cities.

While there were no reports of violence during Sunday’s demonstrations, hundreds have been arrested and at least three people killed in recent days.

Early last week, Nasralla, a former sportscaster and game show host, appeared to have pulled off an upset victory over Hernandez, gaining a five-point lead with nearly two-thirds of the vote tallied.

After an unexplained pause of more than a day, the vote count started leaning in favor of the incumbent.

“It was a gigantic change,” said Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. “The chances of this occurring, had the first 57 percent been drawn as a random sample of tally sheets, is next to impossible.”

The electoral tribunal, which is led by a member of Hernandez’s party, began a partial recount, which was projected to stretch into the early hours.

Early yesterday, Hernandez had nearly 43 percent of the vote while Nasralla had just less than 41.4 percent, with more than 97 percent of votes tallied, according to the tribunal’s Web site.

Earlier, authorities said they would announce a winner soon.

Nasralla had demanded that the recount be widened to include thousands more polling stations, but electoral officials have not agreed to expand the review. The Organization of American States on Sunday said Nasralla’s demands were doable.

Pope Francis prayed for a peaceful resolution to the political crisis, while the UN’s human rights office urged authorities to respect citizens’ right to protest.

Honduras struggles with violent drug gangs, one of world’s highest murder rates and endemic poverty, driving a tide of Hondurans to migrate to the US.

“We cannot continue with this president. We are afraid to leave our houses. We want to study and have a future that is not just going to the US or being killed by gangs,” said Marilyn Cruz, a 27-year-old law student who joined the protests on Sunday.

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