Tegucigalpa – Honduras’ Opposition Alliance headed by sportscaster-turned-presidential hopeful Salvador Nasralla, who is vying to unseat incumbent National Party President Juan Orlando Hernandez, has formally challenged the results of last month’s presidential election
“We’re calling for the nullity of the vote count at the presidential level for the scandalous fraud we have found,” Nasralla said on Friday as he called for a new count to be completed.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Nearly two weeks after election day, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has not officially announced the next president despite results showing a lead for Hernandez.
Meanwhile, at least 14 people have been killed during protests as the country slipped into its most acute crisis since the 2009 military coup.
“The political crisis has reached the legal level, which is normal in all electoral processes,” political analyst Gustavo Irias, director of the Honduran Center for the Study of Democracy (CESPAD), told Al Jazeera.
“What is unique is that the complaints mark the rejection of the process, with all of the irregularities, especially at the presidential level by the two political opposition forces,” Irias said.
Nasralla, who like Hernandez claimed victory after election, has called for a vote-by-vote recount of the country’s 18,103 ballot boxes with oversight by an independent international commission.
The Liberal Party, whose candidate Luis Zelaya placed a distant third, petitioned on Friday the TSE to nullify the presidential election altogether.
Hernandez has said that he is satisfied with the electoral process and accused the opposition of playing games, saying the demands must have an end.
With 100 percent of ballots counted, Hernandez leads by 1.6 percentage points. The results reverse an early 5 percent margin for Nasralla when 58 percent of ballots boxes had been counted.
“If they accept our challenge, the total recount of the votes that we have called for proceeds,” Opposition Alliance spokesperson Rodolfo Pastor told Al Jazeera, adding that he thought it would be “extraordinary” if the electoral commission accepts the petition.
More likely, Pastor said, will be for the TSE to proclaim Hernandez president. Both the Opposition Alliance and Liberal Party would reject the result.
Irias agreed an official victory for Hernandez is most likely. However, he stressed that announcing the winner will not resolve the political crisis, but instead give way to a wave of legal and citizen actions to challenge the result.
“The tribunal lost the possibility of saving the electoral process in conditions that its results could have legitimacy,” Irias said, highlighting a perceived lack of transparency.
Juan Carlos Sikaffy, vice president of the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP), the country’s largest business trade organisation, did not dismiss a possibility of full recount.
“If this proposal to count the 18,000 ballot boxes brings transparency, calm, and tranquility to the country, may they be counted,” Sikaffy told Al Jazeera.
“Our only wish as part of Honduran society is that the popular will is respected … it’s the only way to achieve calm and a conducive environment for investment.”
The tribunal cannot declare a winner until it addresses all appeals of the process. The deadline for a president elect to be announced is December 26.
Results in question
The Organization of American States and European Union election observation missions have cast doubt on the results due to rampant irregularities, heightening pressure on the beleaguered TSE to open the ballot boxes for a more thorough review.
Following an OAS recommendation, the TSE completed began a vote-by-vote recount of 4,753 ballot boxes on Sunday and reported that the variations were minimal.
This represents just over one quarter of the 18,103 ballot boxes the opposition contends should be opened for scrutiny.
Hernandez’s National Party has said it is open to a review of the tally sheets from the election, but has not agreed to open up the ballot boxes and re-count each individual vote.
The party handed over its scanned copies of the vote tallies, which all parties possess, to the TSE for comparison.
The Opposition Alliance has refused to relinquish its tallies, citing distrust of the TSE.
“The tribunal is losing legitimacy as an arbiter capable of giving certainty to this process, and therefore the process itself is questionable,” Pastor said.
A social movement coalition, the Convergence Against Continuing Rule, has called for the vote to be voided and for new elections to be called.
“We believe the best way out of the current crisis is new elections,” Bertha Oliva, director of the country’s preeminent independent human rights organisation, COFADEH, told Al Jazeera, raising alarm over the threat of more deaths as popular uprisings are met with state repression.
“Not just elections with the same mechanisms, but elections with international supervision,” Olivia added. “People are tired of corruption and demand greater respect and transparency.”
Hernandez, who is seeking re-election on the basis of a controversial ruling from the constitutional branch of the Supreme Court that his government is accused of having stacked with friendly judges, said in an interview with CNN that another election is out of the question.
“In Honduras, there is no second round [election],” Hernandez said. The Honduran Constitution does not provide for a run-off scenario.
The OAS did not rule out the possibility of fresh elections, nor did COHEP’s Sikaffy, who said the country should wait to see what comes of the partial recount.
Nasralla has said another election would be a last resort alternative.
Meanwhile, thousands protesters have flooded the streets and defied a now-lifted military curfew in neighbourhood noise-making demonstrations to decry alleged election fraud with the rallying cry “out with Juan Orlando Hernandez”.
CESPAD’s Irias said the uprisings are the face of “accumulated outrage” after years of government corruption scandals and unpopular measures that have sparked a national “citizen rebellion.”
“It’s a crisis of institutionality, of distrust, of defending the status quo from forces that seek democratic change,” Irias said, underlying the situation’s roots in the 2009 coup.
“What is at stake here is consolidating a dictatorship or democracy prevailing.”
National Party supporters also took to the streets las week under the banner “united for peace” in a march in Tegucigalpa Wednesday, which was cut short by a downpour.
Human rights crisis
Amid the political turmoil, at least 14 people have been killed, including two police officers and 12 citizens at the hands of military police, according to COFADEH.
Dozens more have been injured and over 800 detained in a situation national and international advocacy groups warn increasingly puts political activists and government critics at risk.
“We want to avoid more bloodshed,” COFADEH’s Oliva said.
Meanwhile, the US Department of State certified Honduras for additional aid citing improvements in human rights and anti-corruption.
Amnesty International reported that security forces have repressed protesters using tear gas, arrests, beatings, and even firearms. In one case, military police fatally shot a peaceful protester in the face without warning for violating the curfew.
COHEP’s Sikaffy denied that state security personnel have used excessive force, advocating for a stricter crackdown on disruptive protests.
“I think there there has been a lack of force [used] in order to respect the human rights of the thousands of people who go to work daily, who move their products from one city to another,” said Sikaffy, adding that recent highway blockades have prevented the regular transport of goods including food and medicines.
Opposition supporters have vowed more protests.