Honduras election: Tensions high as vote count delayed

Opposition's Salvador Nasralla rejects preliminary poll results as President Juan Orlando Hernandez inches ahead.

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    Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Tensions are high in Honduras as the outcome of Sunday's presidential elections lurched into uncertainty in the final leg of the long-delayed vote count.

    Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla vowed to not accept the official results if the win is handed to his opponent, President Juan Orlando Hernandez. 

    With about 94 percent of ballot boxes counted, incumbent President Hernandez, with 42.9 percent of the vote, had a slight lead over the Opposition Alliance's Nasralla, who has 41.4 percent, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on Friday. 

    Opposition supporters protested throughout the capital Tegucigalpa on Thursday, setting up roadblocks in different areas of the city. 

    Both candidates had claimed victory just hours after polls closed in Sunday's election, but long silences from the TSE has threatened to provoke political unrest and chaos throughout the country.

    In the TSE's first report of preliminary results early on Tuesday, Nasralla led by nearly five percentage points with 57 percent of the ballot boxes counted.

    Following the initial report, TSE magistrate Ramiro Lobo called the result an "irreversible" trend of a win for Nasralla.

    But by Tuesday afternoon, the gap between the two main candidates began to close, and by Wednesday, Hernandez had inched ahead of Nasralla, raising suspicions of foul play and spiking tensions in an already anxious waiting game

    "We don't want Juan Orlando in power any more," 19-year-old student Raquel, who declined to disclose her last name, told Al Jazeera during a grassroots opposition rally on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa outside the location where ballots were being counted.

    "It's already clear he is trying to carry out fraud to stay in power, and we are not going to allow that," Raquel said.

    "We are not going to allow him to exercise his dictatorship."

    Supporters of Salvador Nasralla stand in front of riot police while they wait for official presidential election results outside a Supreme Electoral Tribunal building in Tegucigalpa [Edgard Garrido/Reuters] 

    Gerardo Torres, international director of the Opposition Alliance, accused the TSE, whose president, David Matamoros, was formerly a National Party member of Congress and the party's general secretary, of "electoral manipulation and forge an electoral coup".

    "They know they lost," Torres told Al Jazeera.

    "And only through disorder, or a state of emergency or an electoral coup can they stay in power," he added.

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    "They are dividing the Honduran people through a psychological war."

    The TSE's Lobo told media that the shift was due to the TSE processing ballots from areas where Hernandez had strong support.

    He said the initial trend was unchanged and that when the count included ballots of Nasralla's strongholds in the northern part of the country, official results would swing back in his favour.

    Meanwhile, Hernandez's supporters took to the streets Wednesday in a caravan, waving blue flags of the National Party to celebrate the incumbent president's lead and the party's success in all levels of government.

    Supporters of President Juan Orlando Hernandez celebrate as they wait for official presidential election results [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

    'Dishonest system'

    Hernandez and Nasralla signed an accord Wednesday, at the request of the Organization of American States, agreeing to respect the TSE's final results.

    But Nasralla retracted his signature hours later, saying that he did not trust the TSE and that the OAS agreement was invalid and a "trap". He accused the TSE of trying to steal the election.

    "We will not recognise the results of the dishonest system of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal," he said. 

    Nasralla shows the tallies of ballot counting during a news conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras November 29, 2017 [Jorge Cabrera/Reuters]

    The television host-turned-politician said his chief concerns surround a technical problem that caused the TSE servers to go down for hours on Wednesday, as well as the inclusion of unsigned tally sheets in the official results, among other alleged irregularities.

    According to Torres, the National Party leveraged Nasralla's shrinking margin of victory to pressure the Opposition Alliance to negotiate. Torres denied rumours that such talks were happening behind closed doors.

    "The negotiation they are proposing is to maintain impunity, maintain their protections," he said.

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    In the lead up to the election, allegations of corruption and drug-trafficking links have swirled around Hernandez and his government.

    Among other scandals, he and his National Party are accused of accepting both drug money and public funds embezzled from the country's struggling social security institute to help fund his 2013 presidential campaign.

    Hernandez has denied alleged drug trafficking links and personal involvement in the social security scandal.

    Critics also say Hernandez's re-election bid, justified using a contested 2015 Supreme Court ruling, is illegal.

    "They are pushing us to this point where there are two options: They stop counting ballots and impose an electoral coup, or they force us to negotiate in order to enter the ballots normally," Torres continued. "We're not going to do it."

    'Anything can be expected'

    Based on scanned copies of the tally sheets, which all of the parties have in their possession, Nasralla claimed he has the figures to prove he won the election. 

    Meanwhile, Hernandez maintained that the rural vote is in his favour and that his party's tallies show he is on track to clinch re-election. His conservative National Party called supporters to the streets earlier this week to defend what it called a "total victory".

    Hernandez celebrates with supporters after the first official presidential election results were released in Tegucigalpa [Edgard Garrido/Reuters]

    Scores of supporters for both of candidates have demonstrated in the capital and cities around the country as results continue to trickle in. Late on Wednesday, security forces fired tear gas at opposition supporters demonstrating outside the place where the votes are being counted.

    The TSE has said final official results will be released by Thursday at the latest.

    The European Union election observation mission criticised the slow process. The US, one of Honduras' closest allies, urged election authorities to "complete their work without undue delay" and for "all candidates to respect the results once [the] results are tabulated".

    But after the sharp turn in direction of the results that saw Hernandez leap ahead of Nasralla, it remains unpredictable who the TSE will ultimately announce as president-elect of the Central American country.

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    "From this spurious tribunal, anything can be expected," Juan Barahona, general secretary of the Libre Party, the main party making up the Opposition Alliance, told Al Jazeera.

    "That's why we don't trust it, and we're going to be alert for what they decide today, tomorrow, or any day."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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