In Honduras, parties fear fraud ahead of decisive vote

TEGUCIGALPA, Nov.27 (Reuters) – Warnings of potential criminal acts are ringing out from all sides ahead of Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, raising fears of possible disputes and unrest if main challenger Xiomara Castro does not win by a clear margin .

The charged political atmosphere reflects memories of the contested 2017 election, which the ruling National Party won after a delayed tally and which the Organization of American States said was riddled with irregularities before calling for a new vote .

The opposition said the result was fraudulent and both sides claimed victory. More than two dozen people were killed in the riots and the crackdown that followed.

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The current electoral cycle has already claimed more political violence than four years ago, with more than 30 dead to date, according to researchers at the National University of Honduras.

Salvador Nasralla, a 2017 finalist, is the current running mate of the main opposition list led by self-proclaimed democratic socialist Castro. He accuses the National Party of planning a repeat of what he called a voter suppression in 2017.

“I have no confidence in our electoral process,” he told Reuters.

The National Conservative Party regularly uses its full control over government institutions and funds to reward supporters, punish opponents and influence elections, according to politicians on both sides.

This week, the party itself issued a statement denouncing the electoral authority for having already made mistakes, including a lack of transparency that could lead to a “national crisis” with belated and suspect results.

“This creates a high risk situation for the elections,” he said.

Sunday’s vote will mark the last difficult political confrontation in Central America, after Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rushed for re-election this month after detaining all major rivals.

As a sign of concern in the final week before the election, the administration of US President Joe Biden took the unusual step of sending a high-level delegation to meet with key candidates, government officials and election organizers .

After the visit, a senior US State Department official said the delegation’s main objective was to encourage fair, free and peaceful elections, given what he described as a democratic setback in the region.

If the poll leader wins, she will bring the Honduran left to power for the first time since her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a coup in 2009.

If ruling party candidate Nasry Asfura wins, he will have overcome the unpopularity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who fights corruption charges and links to drug traffickers.

Hernandez denies any wrongdoing.

A LOOK AT THE CANDIDATE’S PHONE

During an interview, Nasralla showed Reuters a video on his phone which he said was captured by his home security cameras a few days ago. It showed someone painting insults on a wall in his house. In the video, the person can be seen removing an outer layer of clothing to reveal a shirt with the Libre de Castro party logo underneath.

Nasralla said the video was proof that National Party agitators disguise themselves as supporters of Libre and fear causing violence or destruction of property to erode opposition votes.

“They are the ones causing the violence,” he said.

The National Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A handful of businesses in the capital Tegucigalpa on Friday covered the entrances of glass shops with wood and metal panels, a sign that some were taking the possibility of unrest seriously.

Rixi Moncada, representative of the Free Party on the electoral board, said the government and the National Party had caused “a lot of hindrance” to her efforts to organize a fair vote.

She specifically accused the finance ministry of interfering with the council’s budget and delaying deliveries of polling station equipment, such as printers and fingerprint scanners.

Moncada, a lawyer, expressed concern that any post-election dispute could reach the courts, widely seen as loyal to the ruling party.

“This country has very little confidence in our justice system,” she said.

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Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Daniel Flynn and Nick Zieminski

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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