Each of the top two contenders in Honduras’ presidential election has claimed victory amid high turnout and accusations that the current government is tilting the results in favor of its preferred candidate, rightist Juan Orlando Hernandez.
His chief rival, former first lady Xiomara Castro, spoke out just hours after the voting concluded on Sunday.
“I am the president of Honduras,” she told journalists, citing exit polls carried out by her center-left Libre party.
Following Castro’s statement, Hernandez’s running mate, Ricardo Alvarez, called a press conference at a Tegucigalpa hotel to claim victory for the National Party.
He said a number of foreign notables had already called Hernandez to congratulate him.
“The Honduran people spoke ... and I remind you that the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Hernandez said on arriving at the hotel, adding that the vote also reflected a desire to move past the political crisis ignited by the June 2009 ouster of President Mel Zelaya, Castro’s husband.
In its third bulletin since the polls closed, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, said Hernandez leads Castro by 34 percent to 28 percent with some 54 percent of the votes tabulated.
Unlike some other Latin American nations, Honduras does not require an absolute majority for victory.
The TSE said it was too soon to proclaim a winner or even to declare a trend.
Libre does not accept the official count, Zelaya told the media, while the party’s representative to the TSE, Ricci Moncada, spoke of “clear fraud.”
The head of the European Union observer mission, Ulrike Lunacek, praised the “massive” turnout and asked the presidential hopefuls for patience.
Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate, but Sunday’s voting was largely peaceful, though five people were gunned down nearing a polling place.
Current head of state Porfirio Lobo was elected in November 2009 in a process marred by widespread repression, violence and media censorship. Fewer than half of eligible voters cast ballots in an election run by the regime installed after the military coup against Zelaya.