Honduras’ conservative ruling party candidate has conceded defeat in the presidential election, paving the way for his left-wing rival Xiomara Castro to become the first female leader of the struggling Central American country.
National Party candidate Nasry Asfura called Castro “elected president” and said he had visited his opponent in her family home to congratulate him, in a move that would end his group’s 12-year-old team in power.
“Now I want to say publicly that I congratulate her on the victory,” Mr Asfura said in a video broadcast on local television along with pictures of the two rivals hugging and smiling.
“That I congratulate her on her victory and as President-elect, I hope God enlightens and guides her so that her administration does the best for the benefit of all of us Hondurans, to achieve development and the desire for democracy.”
Mrs Castro has built up a preliminary lead of almost 20 percentage points over Mr Asfura.
With over 52 per cent of the vote counted Tuesday night in the sluggish count, Mrs Castro had 53.4 per cent support, and Mr Asfura 34.1 per cent.
The concession ends a turbulent period under the National Party, which has been haunted by scandals and allegations of corruption, particularly during the two terms of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
Hernandez is deeply unpopular and has been implicated in a drug case in a US federal court.
He denies guilt but may risk a charge when he leaves office.
Outgoing president involved in US drug trafficking case
Castro’s victory will bring the left back to power after a 12-year hiatus, which followed the ouster of her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya, in a 2009 coup.
Mrs Castro has already hailed a “resounding victory across the country”, and her supporters danced, cheered and waved flags in anticipation of Mr Hernandez’s departure.
She faces major challenges in Honduras, where unemployment, crime, corruption and the threat of transnational drug gangs have helped spur record migration to the United States.
She managed a strong show at Sunday’s election despite results from the EU Voice Observer Mission that the National Party had used state resources to boost its campaign.
The smooth transmission of early election results had helped transparency and trust, the EU mission said.
But it criticized pre-election political violence and “misuse of state resources,” such as an increase in the distribution of welfare coupons.
The vote count stopped for over a day on Monday morning.
The long uncertainty evoked memories of the 2017 presidential election, when the opposition candidate’s leadership suddenly began to evaporate after the Electoral Council restarted the statement after a lengthy suspension.
This interruption gave rise to accusations of fraud and deadly protests, but there has been no unrest so far this time, with voters reassured by Mrs Castro’s far greater lead.
Honduras could change ties from Taiwan to China
Miss Castro’s team is already preparing for the government.
Hugo Noe, head of the campaign’s political platform, said Mrs Castro would seek to negotiate a new debt deal with the International Monetary Fund when she joins in January.
Mrs Castro has also hovered the idea of switching diplomatic relations with China.
Honduras is currently among only 15 countries with formal diplomatic ties to Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
While Taiwan has promised to respect the result and to work with the winner, it has previously warned Honduras not to be taken in by China’s “flashy and false” promises.
China’s efforts to tear away Taiwan’s remaining allies have alarmed and angered Washington, which is concerned about Beijing’s growing international influence, especially in Central America.
ABC / Wires