Opposition demands full recount of disputed Honduras election

Agence France-Presse
The demand, issued by opposition leader Manuel Zelaya, a former president, ups the ante in a struggle between incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez and the opposition's candidate, former TV presenter Salvador Nasralla

DEMANDING A RECOUNT. Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya speaks during an exclusive interview with AFP in Tegucigalpa, on December 5, 2017. Johan Ordonez/AFP

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras’ leftwing opposition on Tuesday, December 5, demanded a full recount of votes in a presidential election held a week ago that has triggered a crisis amid claims of fraud and street protests.

The demand, issued by opposition leader Manuel Zelaya, a former president, upped the ante in a struggle between incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez and the opposition’s candidate, former TV presenter Salvador Nasralla, to be named the victor.

The small Central American nation of 10 million people has been plunged into uncertainty punctuated with clashes since the November 26 election.

In the first hours after the vote, Nasralla looked on track to comfortably win. 

But then counting of ballots was delayed multiple times, with election authorities speaking of computer malfunctions, before results trickled out that credited Hernandez with a slight lead.

The Supreme Electoral Authority ultimately said Hernandez won 42.98%, against 41.39% for Nasralla – but refused to name a winner, saying appeals might challenge the result.

‘A complete count’

The opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship cried foul and initially demanded ballots from nearly a third of polling stations be checked.

But after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Tuesday said it was willing to look at the opposition’s documents for those polling stations, Zelaya called for a recount of ballots from all 18,000 polling stations.

“Our position is that there should be total checking between polling station records and the votes in the ballot box. Meaning open up the boxes, do a complete count to avoid any contamination” of the results, Zelaya told Agence France-Presse.

The election was held under controversy because Hernandez, a 49-year-old lawyer, was seeking re-election despite an explicit bar to more than one term in the constitution. 

The country’s Supreme Court two years ago ruled that ban was void, but many Hondurans were uncomfortable with that – especially as Zelaya himself had been ousted in a coup in 2009 in part because of perceptions that he wanted to lift the barrier to presidential re-election.

Hernandez first took office in 2014, after beating Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, in a poll opponents also said was tainted by fraud.

Uncertain situation

The situation in Honduras is now one of uncertainty.

Hernandez ordered a state of emergency last Friday to curb protests and pillaging, but at least one death was reported in clashes, and his authority was looking fragile after hundreds of police officers late Monday refused to enforce a nighttime curfew.

Thousands of people have staged demonstrations in defiance of the state of emergency.

“The only path possible” to quell the crisis was for the claims of voter fraud to be rigorously checked, said the head of the election observer mission from the Organization for American States, Jorge Quiroga.

The European Union, which also sent poll observers, urged calm and restraint while the process played out.

“It is essential that the electoral authorities remain open and responsive to possible appeals, including to a transparent re-counting process, if requested by candidates,” the EU’s external action service said in a statement.

Nasralla, 64, on Monday, December 4, told Agence France-Presse he refused to recognize the tribunal’s vote count.

Going into the election, Hernandez enjoyed implicit backing from the United States, which is pouring $750 million into Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle – the poor, gang-infested trio of nations made up of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – to try to stem migration from the region into the US. – Rappler.com