Honduras president says open to review of disputed vote

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras’ president said he is open to a review of a disputed vote count in a bid for re-election that has plunged the country into a political crisis following claims of fraud from his opponent and violence on the streets.

Juan Orlando Hernandez called late Tuesday for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to re-examine all the votes from the Nov. 26 election, saying that “the people deserve respect.”

Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla has urged a recount of thousands of disputed ballots and also has called for a re-vote. He told The Associated Press that a re-vote would be legal if Congress convened and explicitly approved it.

With all the votes counted, Hernandez holds an edge over Nasralla of 43 per cent to 41.4 per cent. Both sides have claimed victory, though the tribunal has yet to declare a winner more than a week after the vote.

“It is still not known who the new president is,” political analyst Rodolfo Cortes Calderon said. “Meanwhile, the people sink into a debacle of protests, the suspension of constitutional guarantees and nighttime pot-banging demonstrations.”

Third-place finisher Luis Zelaya of the Liberal party said there is no doubt in his mind as to the outcome.

“The documents used in the process that are in my party’s possession give Nasralla as the sure winner,” Zelaya said at a news conference Wednesday. “I am not with either Nasralla or Hernandez, but it was Salvador Nasralla who won.”

Data from the count was transmitted simultaneously to election observers, the U.S. Embassy and the political parties.

Domestic and international election observers denounced numerous irregularities in the election, such as a sudden halt to the count that lasted more than a day. After the halt, an early lead for Nasralla gradually began to recede and the count ultimately turned in Hernandez’s favour.

Officials with the electoral tribunal have denied any manipulation of the vote.

But the delay and uncertainty prompted Nasralla to allege electoral malfeasance and many of his supporters took to the streets in protest.

The government declared a curfew in response. The Organization of American States has said early reports indicate as many as 11 people died in the disturbances.

“There have also been killings by soldiers, dozens of wounded, looting of large and small businesses, economic paralysis, destruction of public works and families divided,” said Cortes Calderon, the analyst.

Pedro Barquero, executive director of the country’s Chamber of Commerce, estimated $65 million in damage has been done to businesses during the unrest.

On Wednesday, the U.S. State department issued a travel warning urging “U.S. citizens to postpone or cancel unnecessary travel to mainland Honduras due to ongoing political protests and the potential for violence.”

The alert said that while “demonstrations have largely remained peaceful, demonstrations can be volatile and dangerous, and have included rock throwing, assaults, and tire burning. Moreover, rioting and looting have occurred in many cities throughout Honduras.”

The statement noted that the tourist-oriented Bay islands, including Roatan, have not been significantly affected.

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