One dead, scores hurt in growing protests over delayed Honduran vote count

One dead, scores hurt in growing protests over delayed Honduran vote count
01 Dec
2017

A recount of disputed ballots from last Sunday’s vote was likely to take up to two more days before yielding a winner in a neck-and-neck race between U.S.-backed President Juan Orlando Hernandez and his center-left rival, TV star Salvador Nasralla.

International concern has steadily grown about the electoral crisis in the poor Central American country, which also suffers from drug gangs and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Police sources said at least one man had been shot and killed at a protest in the city of La Ceiba, while about 12 members of the military and police force had been injured in the demonstrations, which snarled traffic outside Honduras’ main port on Friday.

At least 10 protesters had also been injured in the capital of Tegucigalpa, according to the city’s Hospital Escuela.

Hernandez began stretching a slim lead over Nasralla on Thursday as the vote count ran in his favor, maintaining a reversal in the trend that began after a 36-hour delay halted the process on Monday.

Until then, Nasralla had held a five-point lead with over half the ballots counted, and the sudden change in direction to Hernandez’s advantage after the restart sparked clashes between police and protesters.

Late on Thursday, David Matamoros, the top electoral tribunal official, heeded calls from international election observers and Honduras’ top business group and said the tribunal would hand-count some 1,031 outstanding ballots, or roughly 6 percent of the total, that had irregularities.

That fresh count would be completed in up to two days, and would allow the tribunal to declare a definitive winner with 100 percent of ballots counted, Matamoros said.

‘UP IN THE AIR’

With the regular ballot count completed, Hernandez, of the center-right National Party, had a lead of fewer than 50,000 votes over his rival.

Luis Larach, the president of business lobby COHEP, told Reuters that given the slim, 1.5 percentage point difference between the candidates, the hand-count of irregular ballots would be crucial in deciding the winner.

“For me, it’s still up in the air,” he said.

Both Hernandez and Nasralla, a television game show host allied with leftists, claimed victory after the election, and the challenger has said he will not accept the tribunal’s result because of doubts over the counting process.

Leading a center-left alliance, the 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and is backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009 after he proposed a referendum on his re-election.

Zelaya weighed into the debate on Thursday in a letter in which he accused the tribunal of “electoral crimes” on behalf of Hernandez, who himself was standing for re-election enabled by a 2015 contentious Supreme Court ruling.

One of the four magistrates on the electoral tribunal on Thursday flagged “serious doubts” about the process.

The Organization of American States (OAS) appeared to have salvaged the credibility of the election on Wednesday by eliciting signed statements from both candidates vowing to respect the final result once disputed votes had been checked.

But a few hours later Nasralla rejected the OAS accord, saying his opponents were trying to rob him. He urged supporters to take to the streets in protest.

There were violent protests across the country during the week, and on Friday demonstrators set up barricades to block a highway leaving Puerto Cortes, the port that supplies the industries of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ second-biggest city.

In La Ceiba, protesters erected barricades and burned tires across a bridge and blocked at least two other motorways, while various highway toll booths were set alight.

Questions over the process have led to allegations by the opposition that Hernandez may have influenced the tribunal. The tribunal has blamed the problems on technical glitches.

Ahead of the election, opinion polls indicated Hernandez would win the vote in the country of more than 9 million people.

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