TEGUCIGALPA—Leftist opposition candidate Xiomara Castro has claimed victory in Sunday’s Honduran presidential election, with only 40 percent of votes counted giving her a lead of 53.5 percent in the preliminary results.
Castro, the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, is rallying for president against Nasry Asfura, candidate of the ruling National Party, who stood at 34 percent in early counting, the national electoral council showed.
Castro, 62, was competing in a field of more than a dozen candidates, and supporters hailed a triumph that would end a dozen years of conservative rule and return the left to power for the first time since Zelaya was deposed in a 2009 coup.
In a brief address, Castro vowed to form a government of “reconciliation,” and to strengthen direct democracy with referendums—a tool that Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has repeatedly employed.
“There will be no more abuse of power in this country,” said Castro, dressed in a red jacket and flanked by the 2017 presidential runner-up, popular TV host Salvador Nasralla, who joined her slate as a candidate for vice president.
Results appeared to be heading to a far clearer result than in the previous election, when irregularities in the vote count sparked deadly protests and led to incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez securing a second term.
Asfura, a wealthy businessman and two-term mayor of the capital, had tried in the campaign to distance himself from Hernandez, who has denied accusations of having ties to powerful gangs after an investigation in the United States linked him to alleged drug trafficking.
The election is the latest political flashpoint in Central America, a major source of U.S.-bound migrants fleeing chronic unemployment and gang violence. Honduras is among the world’s most violent countries, although homicide rates have eased.
Central America is also key transit point for drug trafficking.
The vote prompted diplomatic jostling between Beijing and Washington after Castro said she would open diplomatic relations with China, de-emphasizing ties with U.S.-backed Taiwan.
No Good Options
Hernandez’s disputed 2017 re-election, and its ugly aftermath loomed large. Widespread reports of irregularities provoked protests claiming the lives of over two dozen people.
Alexa Sanchez, a 22-year-old medical student, lounged 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 were such good options,” she said, adding she was highly skeptical of clean vote.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “This is Honduras.”
National and international election observers monitored voting, including the European Union’s 68-member mission.
Zeljana Zovko, the chief EU observer, told reporters around midday that her team mostly saw calm voting with high turnout, although most polling stations they visited opened late.
“The campaign has been very hard,” said Julieta Castellanos, a sociologist and former dean of Honduras’ National Autonomous University.
Castellanos said post-election violence is possible if the race ended up close, if a large number of complaints were lodged and gave rise to suspicions of wide-scale fraud.
Alongside the presidency, voters are also deciding the composition of the country’s 128-member Congress, plus officials for some 300 local governments.
In Tegucigalpa’s working-class Kennedy neighborhood, 56-year-old accountant Jose, who declined to give his surname, said he would stick with the ruling party.
“I have hope Tito Asfura can change everything,” he said, using the mayor’s nickname. “Look, here the corruption is in all the governments.”
By David Alire Garcia and Gustavo Palencia. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.