TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras’ newly elected president named his transition team Tuesday, while about 200 students protested to demand a recount of the vote in the poor Central American nation.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, the ruling National Party’s candidate who campaigned on a law-and-order platform, hadn’t spoken publicly since just after the election Sunday, but he released a statement that included the names of those who will help him take over the government from President Porfirio Lobo.
Hernandez, 45, has all but won the hotly contested presidential race, electoral authorities said late Monday in describing his lead as “irreversible.”
Even before the announcement, his main competitor, Xiomara Castro, had challenged the official returns and claimed victory. Her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup, said they wouldn’t accept the results, but the campaign did not comment on the elections tribunal all but declaring Hernandez the winner.
Castro had led in opinion polls early in the campaign, but Hernandez closed the gap in the closing weeks as he promised to do “whatever I have to” in fighting crime in a country where much of the cities are controlled by gangs and outlying remote areas are held by drug runners.
Hernandez had 34 per cent of the votes to 29 per cent for Castro in an eight-candidate field, according to the most recent returns, with about a third of the votes still uncounted.
“It’s not the final result, but it’s an irreversible trend,” tribunal spokeswoman Lourdes Rosales said.
Electoral officials said they hoped to have final results by Thursday, but they didn’t explain why it was taking so long to finish the vote count. The tribunal reported results from 54 per cent of the votes by late Sunday, but barely advanced the count over the next two days.
About 200 university students blocked a major thoroughfare in the capital Tuesday to protest what they said were fraudulent election results and demand a recount. The students clashed with police officers who threw tear gas at the crowd.
Election observers for both the European Union and Organization of American States issued statements Tuesday describing the election and vote count as transparent.
Dario Euraque, a professor of history and international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, said Hernandez’s candidacy resonated with Hondurans because he pushed through legislation giving the military a role in patrolling some of the country’s crime-beset cities.
“Military presence is key when you practically have a failed state,” Euraque said. “It’s a mistake to ask they retire (to their barracks). People don’t understand it. They want security and will accept that discourse.”
Hernandez will likely face a divided Congress, whose 128 members were also elected Sunday. As a result, the political situation is unlikely to change dramatically in this failing state of 8.5 million people, which is home to the world’s highest homicide rate and widespread poverty. Those working for less than the minimum wage of $350 a month have grown from 28 per cent of the work force in 2008 to 43 per cent today.
Honduras also has been a focal point for U.S. drug enforcement efforts as the transit point for much of the South American cocaine heading to the U.S.
Hernandez, a lawyer and reserve army lieutenant who became president of congress in 2010, said Honduras needs an anti-drug strategy with the U.S. that is more effective.
“For them it’s a problem of public health, but for us it’s a problem of blood and death,” he said during the campaign “We expect that the stage that’s about to begin will be more effective than the one in the past.”