Honduras is teetering on the brink of its worst political crisis since the 2009 military coup after the beleaguered electoral commission failed for the fourth day to declare a winner in the presidential race amid mounting irregularities and allegations of vote rigging.
The incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez, a rightwing autocrat representing the National party, is accused of illegally meddling in the Sunday’s election in an attempt to hold on to power and deny victory to the opposition Alliance leader Salvador Nasralla.
Protesters and police clashed near the vote counting centre (Infop) in Tegucigalpa on Thursday night as frustration at the unprecedented delays spilled out on to the streets of the capital. At least one man was reported dead and several others injured after police hurled tear gas and charged the demonstrators who burned tyres and threw rocks.
Carlos, a 17-year-old student outside Infop, said that Hernandez had to go. “We want a change, we don’t want this corrupt president any more … he’s committing a fraud, the people don’t want him and the people have the right to choose.”
Anger is also mounting at the perceived failure of the international community to speak out despite a series of events which the opposition say point to premeditated fraud.
For the first time since 1980, when Honduras transitioned from dictatorship to democracy, the TSE failed on Sunday to issue early results and the projected winner – saying nothing until nine hours after voting closed.
The first results on Monday gave Nasralla a seemingly insurmountable five-point lead with more than half the vote counted. Nasralla, a former Pepsi executive and TV sports journalist, represents the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship which is dominated by the leftwing Libre party, which emerged from the grassroots resistance to the coup.
Nasralla and his supporters celebrated and the third-placed candidate, Luis Zelaya of the Liberal party, conceded. But Hernandez and his media allies continued to insist victory would be theirs once the rural vote was counted.
The TSE then echoed the National party’s claims about the delayed rural vote and Nasaralla’s lead started dwindling. But no technical reason could explain the delay as tallies from all 18,000 polling stations were transmitted electronically as soon as voting closed. And a test run conducted in the presence of diplomats and international observers identified no issues with the electoral computer system or flow of results.
On Wednesday afternoon the TSE claimed the computer system “went down” for five hours. The alleged hitch happened just after Nasralla and Hernandez signed a document agreeing to respect the official results. Nasralla has since withdrawn from the agreement, claiming it was a trap.
By Wednesday night, Hernandez had overturned Nasralla’s lead by several thousand votes, prompting thousands to spill onto the streets.
“All the irregularities have been about buying time in order to reverse the real voting trend in order to declare Hernandez the winner. It’s obvious that electoral fraud has taken place … in a manner which was predetermined,” said Hugo Noe Pino, an economist, former minister, and professor at the Central American Technological University (Unitec) in Tegucigalpa.
In another twist on Thursday, election tribunal magistrate Marcos Ramiro Lobo cast doubt on the credibility of his institution’s own results, blaming the alleged computer glitch on the sudden turnaround in favour of Hernandez. Ramiro called for an independent audit of the results.
Nasralla said nationwide protests would continue until a recount of the paper voting tallies from each polling booth was conducted in the presence of party representatives and international observers.
Jesuit human rights leader Ismael Moreno, known as father Melo, said Honduras was at risk of another coup by the National party.
“The international community especially the EU, US, and OAS need to drop the false impartiality and instead take an active role in demanding and observing a physical recount as the TSE is clearly not credible. If this doesn’t happen, it will be catastrophic for the Honduran people, as we have no choice but to resist and defend the popular vote and sovereignty of the country.”
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