War of words as Honduras poll results are tallied

Honduras’s governing party on Monday accused an electoral official of prematurely declaring wealthy land owner Manuel Zelaya the winner of elections, and the outgoing president urged the candidates to maintain calm as the final results are tallied.

But Supreme Electoral Tribunal president Aristides Mejia stuck by his announcement that the victor in Sunday’s voting was Zelaya, an opposition candidate who has promised to fight corruption and push for life sentences for violent criminals in this poor Central American nation plagued by gang violence.

Zelaya’s supporters flooded the streets of the capital on Monday, waving the Liberal Party’s red-and-white flag, flashing their cars’ headlights and blowing horns to celebrate victory.

Supporters of rival National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa, however, refused to concede defeat, and tribunal members said official results would not be available until Tuesday at the earliest.

Late on Monday, tribunal representative Jacobo Hernandez, of the National Party, rejected Mejia’s declaration in favour of Zelaya, calling it “absurd”.

“We haven’t released official results,” he said.

The tribunal said on Sunday night that Zelaya had 50,8% of the vote to 45,2% for Lobo Sosa, but it did not say on what proportion of the vote tally this projection was based.

National Party president Gilberto Goldstein said too few votes had been tallied to establish a winner and that his party would not accept the election results until all the votes were counted. He accused Mejia of declaring Zelaya the winner prematurely.

Mejia, who is a member of Zelaya’s Liberal Party, urged Lobo Sosa to concede defeat.

Lobo Sosa “should admit that there is a winner ... and that winner is president-elect Manuel Zelaya”, Mejia told Channel 5.

Lobo Sosa assured hundreds of his supporters at the National Party headquarters on Monday night that he had not given up.

“I’m going to defend the right of my people to have their votes counted,” he shouted, shaking his fist in the air.

In a news release on Monday evening, outgoing President Ricardo Maduro, of the National Party, urged both candidates and the voters to “maintain calm, peace and order ...
while the results of yesterday’s vote are determined officially”.

The release noted that the election was close and urged both parties to “be prudent when it comes to making statements, and wait for the results of all the balloting”.

Zelaya warned that Maduro’s “refusal to accept the defeat of his party is very dangerous for the country ... and I can’t take responsibility for what happens to our democratic system if Maduro continues with that position”.

Zelaya said on Monday he already was forming work committees, preparing official visits to other countries and setting up meetings with business groups and social organisations.

“The decision the people made requires that we get to work now for Honduras, leave behind the campaign and start meeting with the people,” he said at a news conference in his home. “This country urgently needs solutions, and we can’t lock ourselves away until January. We have to begin now.”

Salvadoran President Tony Saca’s office said he planned to meet with Zelaya on Tuesday in El Salvador.

Zelaya, a tall, wealthy agricultural land owner widely recognised by his thick black mustache, cowboy boots and large white Stetson, has railed against alleged government corruption and said he supports life sentences for violent criminals who are “beyond rehabilitation”.

Under a “citizens’ power” plan to combat corruption, Zelaya promised to pass a transparency law and implement a civil assembly to monitor the government.

He also has promised to create 400 000 jobs in four years in Honduras, which has poverty and unemployment rates of 71% and 46%, respectively.

Lobo Sosa, also a wealthy agricultural land owner and the current president of Congress, pledged to create 600 000 jobs and implement the death penalty in order to achieve “a peaceful country, without criminals”.

Sunday’s balloting was the seventh consecutive democratic election for this country, which abandoned more than two decades of military rule in 1981.—Sapa-AP

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