Hondurans who voted in what election officials said were “massive” numbers on Sunday fueled opposition hopes of ending a dozen years of National Party rule and possibly paving the way for leftist Xiomara Castro to win. The presidency.
If he wins, opposition standard-bearer Castro would become the first female president in Honduras and mark the return of the left to power for the first time since her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in a coup in 2009. .
As the polls closed, the electoral council said that more than 2.7 million voters had already cast their votes, a figure the council described as “massive turnout” but with more votes yet to be counted.
Board chair Kelvin Aguirre said it had already surpassed total participation four years ago.
He added that voters still in line could vote, in a contest marked by efforts by the ruling Conservative party to shake off numerous corruption scandals while attacking Castro as a dangerous radical.
Long lines could be seen at many voting places in the capital. Nationally, some 5.2 million Hondurans are eligible to vote.
For months, Castro has sought to unify the opposition to outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has denied allegations of having ties to powerful gangs, despite an open investigation in the United States that allegedly links him to drug trafficking.
After tying with the 2017 runner-up, a popular TV host, most polls have reinforced her status as a favorite.
“We cannot stay home. This is our moment. This is the time to kick out the dictatorship, ”said Castro, harassed by reporters just after voting in the city of Catacamas earlier that day.
“It’s now or never.”
The candidate said she was confident that voters would report any issues they see and that international observers would also help ensure a fair vote.
‘This is Honduras’
The election is the latest political high point in Central America, a major source of U.S.-bound migrants fleeing chronic unemployment and gang violence. Honduras is among the most violent countries in the world, although homicide rates have dropped recently.
Central America is also a key transit point for drug trafficking, and where concern about increasingly authoritarian governments has grown.
The vote has also sparked diplomatic conflicts between Beijing and Washington after Castro said he would open diplomatic ties with China, downplaying ties with the US-backed Taiwan.
Castro’s main rival among the 13 presidential candidates on the ballot is Nasry Asfura of the National Party, a wealthy businessman and mayor of the capital, Tegucigalpa, who has tried to distance himself from the unpopular incumbent.
After casting his vote, 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 his elections, but many others had clear favorites.
“I am against all corruption, poverty and drug trafficking,” said José González, 27, a mechanic who said he would vote for Castro.
Hernández’s disputed reelection in 2017 and its horrific aftermath loom large. The widespread reports of wrongdoing sparked deadly protests that claimed the lives of more than two dozen people, but he eventually sidestepped allegations of fraud and called for a new vote.
Alexa Sánchez, a 22-year-old medical student, sat on a bench just after voting while listening to music on her headphones and said she reluctantly voted for Castro.
“Honestly, it’s not like there are such good options,” she said, adding that she was very skeptical of a fair vote.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “This is Honduras.”
Numerous national and international election observers monitored Sunday’s vote, including the 68-member mission from the European Union.
Zeljana Zovko, the EU’s top observer, told a crowd of journalists around noon that her team saw mostly a quiet vote with high turnout, although most of the polling stations they visited opened late.
“The campaign has been very tough,” said Julieta Castellanos, a sociologist and former dean of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, noting that Castro has “generated great expectations.”
Castellanos said that post-election violence is possible if the contest is especially close, if a large number of complaints are filed and give rise to suspicions of fraud on a large scale, or if the candidates declare themselves victorious prematurely.
On Sunday afternoon, the leader of the National Party, Fernando Anduray, made such a statement, securing a victory for Asfura as the voting continued.
In addition to the presidential race, voters are also deciding the composition of the country’s 128-member Congress, in addition to officials from some 300 local governments.
In the working-class Kennedy neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, 56-year-old accountant José, who declined to give his last name, said he would stay with the ruling party.
“I am hopeful that Tito Asfura can change everything,” he said, using the mayor’s nickname.
“Look, here the corruption is in all governments.”
Preliminary results are expected around 9pm ET (2am GMT).
( Jowharwith REUTERS)