Friday, January 28

Presidential election in Honduras: end of the vote in a precarious calm

Hondurans voted on Sunday to elect their president, and calls for calm increased as the poll closed at 5:00 p.m. (11:00 p.m. GMT).

Voters voted quietly in a country plagued by widespread violence from powerful drug trafficking gangs, who have extended their corruption to the highest level of state.

More than five million voters were called to the polls and the participation was “massive”, declared the president of the National Electoral Council Kelvin Aguirre announcing the closing of the poll.

Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party (left), wife of ex-president Manuel Zelaya overthrown by a coup in 2009, and Nasry Asfura, dolphin of outgoing president Juan Orlando Fernandez for the National Party (right) are given favorites.

Observers noted malfunctions due in particular to technical failures.

They also denounced violations of the electoral law, in particular the ban on cell phones in polling stations: “Those who buy the votes ask for proof: a photo of the ballot paper”, explained a female voter to the AFP.

The first trends should be given by the CNE around 8:00 p.m. (Monday 2:00 a.m. GMT).

The threat of fraud and unrest hangs over the ballot and its counting, especially as at least 31 people were killed during the election campaign.

“They will try to provoke the people. We know there is desperation, especially among those who have governed for 12 years,” Castro warned after voting.

The ruling party candidate vowed to abide by the result of the vote, and called for “not a drop of blood” to flow.

The authorities mobilized 42,000 soldiers and police to monitor the 5,755 polling stations in the country and to ward off possible disturbances.

In addition to their president, voters had to choose in particular 128 deputies and 596 mayors and deputy mayors.

Since the 2009 coup that overthrew Manuel Zelaya, Honduras has been ruled by the National Party under the rule of Juan Orlando Hernandez, suspected by the United States of being involved in drug trafficking.

“We need a change, even if it is painful. There are so many poor people, of suffering”, told AFP before the Sunday high mass Hermer Sorto Paz, parish priest of the tourist village of Santa Lucia, about ten kilometers from Tegucigalpa. “Let us not vote for those who for all these years have done nothing but raise money for themselves, and do not sell our vote,” he added.

Sensing the tide, the PN had hardened the tone of its campaign, calling the leader of LIBRE a “communist” and vilifying its proposals to legalize abortion and same-sex marriage.

The right-wing party is also known not to shy away from fraud in order to win elections.

– Doubtful re-election –

In 2013, Mr. Hernandez had beaten Xiomara Castro by a short head, and then flouted the Constitution to run for a second term in 2017. His questionable re-election on the wire against television star Salvador Nasralla had unleashed violent demonstrations.

New riots would not do the business of Washington, which “wants to avoid a repeat of (the election) of 2017 and an increase in migratory pressure,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank.

Tens of thousands of Hondurans try to join each year the million of their compatriots who fled violence and misery, the overwhelming majority in the United States.

More than half of the 10 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, which the coronavirus pandemic has only accentuated.

Unemployment has almost doubled in one year, from 5.7% in 2019 to 10.9% in 2020.

With a homicide rate of 37.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, Honduras is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world (excluding conflict zones).

“That (the politicians) keep their promises” is the first wish of Abril Moncada, a 30-year-old tourism student who votes in the middle-class neighborhood of 21 de Octubre, in Tegucigalpa.

In the district of La Sosa, reputed to be a stronghold in Tegucigalpa of the “maras”, the criminal gangs which terrorize the population, Lester Ribera, mason of 30, assures us that “if we do not look for history, they will not help us. do nothing “.

“Corruption … there will be anyone who is elected,” said José Zelaya, 45, of the same district.

In the past two years, Parliament has dissolved an anti-corruption commission backed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and passed a new penal code with lower penalties for corruption or drug trafficking.

Many parliamentarians were targeted by the investigations of this commission.

Drug traffickers detained in the United States have implicated President Hernandez, while Tony Hernandez, his brother, was sentenced by a US federal court to life in prison for his involvement in the trafficking of 185 tons of cocaine.

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