Tegucigalpa, Honduras – Hondurans remain on edge hours after polls closed in the presidential election as official results were suspended and two candidates declared themselves the next president of the Central American country, Al Jazeera reports
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal released its first report of preliminary results nearly 10 hours after polls closed showing Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla in the lead with 45.17 percent. He was followed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party with 40.21 percent and Luis Zelaya of the Liberal Party with 13.77 percent with 57 percent of votes counted.
Hernandez of the ruling conservative National Party had claimed victory early, while Nasralla also alleged on Sunday night that he had enough information, despite the lack of official results, to declare himself president.
The election, which marked the first time a president has sought re-election, was marred by controversy before the polls had opened. The opposition, which had claimed during the campaign that the government was preparing to rig the elections, raised concerns of electoral fraud after the polls closed.
“They already stole the election from us once,” Xiomara Castro told Al Jazeera, referring to her 2013 presidential bid as a candidate with the left-wing Libre Party. Hernandez won over Castro amid opposition accusations of electoral fraud.
“We must not allow four more years of suffering and pain like we have had to live these past four years with the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez,” continued Castro, former First Lady of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was removed in the 2009 US-backed military coup.
The Supreme Electoral Tribunal was expected to release preliminary results around 7pm local time (01:00 GMT), but the body suspended the process for nearly seven hours, saying that it would be “irresponsible” to release partial results when there could be a “dramatic” change in the trend of the results.
Despite the lack of official results, Hernandez declared himself the winner at approximately 8pm local time (02:00 GMT). Hours later, Nasralla, who said he had information from inside the vote counting process, claimed victory.
Supporters at the Opposition Alliance headquarters broke into chants of “Out with JOH.” The Liberal Party, which throughout the campaign remained in a distant third place, also raised concerns about irregularities.
“An unusual decision that has never happened in the history of Honduras, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal decided to close voting at 4pm when it always gets extended for another hour,” Octavio Pineda, general secretary of the Liberal Party, told Al Jazeera.
“This indicates in some way the manipulation of the Tribunal by the governing party,” he added. Opposition Alliance supporters celebrated outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in the early hours of Monday morning as riot police lined the premises.
The coalition called for its supporters to take to the streets in front of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to defend their vote on Monday afternoon.
Hernandez is controversially seeking a second term in office despite a constitutional ban on re-election. He has justified his re-election bid through a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that overturned the article of the constitution on presidential term limits, which critics say was illegal.
The president, a close US ally, has championed economic policies focused on attracting foreign private investment. Hernandez has also strongly advocated militarisation as the solution to the country’s public security woes.
His term in office has been rocked by controversy. A massive corruption scandal came to light in 2015 implicating the National Party in an embezzlement scheme that allegedly funnelled millions of dollars from the resource-strapped social security institute into Hernandez’s 2013 presidential campaign.
About 6.2 million Hondurans were eligible to vote on Sunday for president, 128 members of Congress, 20 representatives to the Central American parliament, 298 mayors, and other local officials.