Deadly violence and voter boycotts fuel Honduran presidential race

Written by Tom Llamas, CNN

Honduras is set to take a historic step towards the ouster of its dominant political party. In the early hours of Thursday morning, a runoff election between Honduras’ two candidates for president could cause the Organization of American States to recommend that the National Party’s president be immediately disqualified from the race.

The ruling party has run the Central American country for two decades, and during that time, it has dominated the country’s politics. It has been accused of trafficking drug violence, and was recently accused of sending troops to violence-racked towns and cities to violently suppress protestors.

Speaking during a conference call with reporters, Jaime Paz Stewart, senior director of policy and advocacy at the Human Rights Watch Americas Division, raised fears that the race could be “open to potential fraud.”

“It’s true that Honduras is quite a deeply divided country in terms of political parties and political discourse,” Stewart said. “And there has been documented violence between political parties and protests in certain areas of the country … it’s a tragic state of affairs, especially as there are so many pressing issues in the country, that the country is faced with in this campaign, it’s not the time to be talking about who’s going to win the presidency.”

The National Party has denied allegations of fraud in the election. In a statement, it called for “an open and transparent process for the election. We call on the electoral authorities and all political actors to respect one another.”

Under international pressure, the election commission has suspended nine districts where preliminary results showed a candidate winning with less than 50% of the vote.

The margin of difference between both candidates is believed to be between 6,000 and 8,000 votes, according to political analysts. But the race is too close to call, and the final result could be any number of thousands of votes.

At a late night press conference Thursday, Honduran electoral officials said that results may not be finalized for days and could stretch into next week.

High turnout and small polling stations has led to a chaotic situation at some polling stations throughout the country.

“We’ve never experienced election day so complicated,” said a voter at a polling station in Tegucigalpa, where the difference between candidates is less than 1% of the votes cast. “The situation is tense — we’re feeling nervous.”

Supporters of ousted former president Manuel Zelaya take part in a march in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Credit: AP

The election has seen near-universal participation, an accomplishment as the country attempted to recover from decades of political instability.

For some in Honduras, the balloting was a welcomed respite from much of the past — even in a country that has been incredibly politically polarizing since the 2014 murder of Manuel Zelaya.

The former president, who was ousted in a 2009 coup and who supports a rerun of the 2016 presidential election, was instrumental in organizing the country’s democratic path forward after a stint as president that saw the region’s record for increasing homicides.

Speaking with Reuters, Jose Roberto Mendoza, a University of Honduras professor, said he had participated in the election in order to “send a message that the left must be strong in this country.”

“Our hearts feel good that the voters are enthusiastic, but they must also be very proud of themselves and feel proud that they are participating in this process,” he added.

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