Elections in Honduras could topple the long-running National Party

Elections in Honduras could topple the long-running National Party

Tegucigalpa — Hondurans voted Sunday to replace unpopular President Juan Orlando Hernandez in an election that could topple his National Party after 12 years in power.

The candidate most likely to do so is Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Party for Freedom and Reestablishment. The former first lady makes her third bid for the presidency and is the only one of 13 opposition candidates who has a chance of overcoming Hernandez’s chosen successor, Nasri Asfora, the popular mayor of Tegucigalpa.

Such is the level of distrust among Hondurans in the electoral process that many fear riots in the streets no matter who wins.

Giulio Cesar Nieto, a 62-year-old retiree from the judicial system, said he hoped political parties would act responsibly and recognize the winner to avoid the post-election violence four years ago.

“Everyone is looking for change,” Nieto said after casting his vote at an elementary school in the capital’s El Bosque district. The polling site opened to voters more than an hour after the scheduled time.

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Despite the late start, the vote looked orderly. Polling staff checked ID cards, scanned fingerprints, and took photos of voters. Ballot papers were marked, deposited in transparent plastic boxes — for the president, members of Congress, and local races — and voters’ pinkies were colored in ink.

After a protracted, offense-filled competition in 2017, protesters filled the streets and the government imposed a curfew. Three weeks later, Hernandez was declared the winner despite a call by the Organization of American States’ observation mission for a re-election. At least 23 people were killed.

This time, companies do not venture along the main roads of the capital. Workers installed plywood panels on many of their windows on Saturday.

More than 5.1 million Hondurans are registered to vote at nearly 6,000 polling sites across the country. In addition to a new president, they would choose a new Congress, new representatives in the Central American Parliament, and a host of local ethnicities.

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Experts say it will come down to whether those unhappy with the NDP’s rule will turn out in sufficient numbers to overcome the incumbent’s powerful electoral machinery. Hondurans report that they have received phone calls from the National Party in recent days offering a variety of payments or other government benefits and reminding them to vote. Offered some calls to arrange transportation to polling sites.

In a world hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Honduras can count this as just one of the crises that have plagued it in recent years. Last year, the country also suffered the devastating effects of two major hurricanes. The unemployment rate was 10.9% last year as the economy contracted by 9%. Powerful street gangs continue to terrorize Hondurans, pushing, along with economic factors, tens of thousands of Hondurans to emigrate.

Corruption is perpetrated with such impunity that Hondurans have turned their hopes on US federal prosecutors in New York. They won life imprisonment for Hernandez’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, for drug smuggling, and accused the president of fueling his political rise with drug proceeds, though they did not bring charges. Juan Orlando Hernandez has denied any wrongdoing.

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So the ground will seem favorable to Castro, but there are doubts about how much real change it will bring. The military ousted her husband, Jose Manuel Zelaya, in a 2009 coup. US prosecutors have also linked him to bribes from drug traffickers, which he also denies.

In the mountainside neighborhood of El Bosque, people began lining up 30 minutes before polls were scheduled to open at an elementary school. Gathered in windbreakers and jackets, they moved from foot to foot in an effort to keep warm against gale-force winds.

Evelyn Flores, a 49-year-old government agency secretary, had a more nervous view, but felt compelled to fulfill her civic responsibility nonetheless.

“They all disappoint,” Flores said of the politicians. “They count and do not return.”

Flores’ life has not improved in recent years. If you get a small bonus, the cost of basic necessities also increases.

“We need someone to lift this country because there is a lot of poverty, a lot of shortcomings,” she said.

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Alberto Vasquez, a construction worker, expressed support for the current National Party, but saw little potential for positive change. “No matter who wins, it will not help us because the economic situation will not change,” he said. “Whoever wins is the one who will enjoy his power and prestige, we will remain as we are.”

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Associated Press video reporter Fernanda Pesci contributed to this report.

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