Third time lucky in Honduras

In another piece of good news for the Latin American left, Xiomara Castro has won a big victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras, twelve years after her husband was forced from office in dubious circumstances.

Only a bit over half the vote (51.4%) has been counted, but Castro’s lead is unassailable: she has 53.6%, almost twenty points clear of her nearest rival, the right’s Nasry Asfura, on 33.9%. (See official results here.) Centrist Yani Rosenthal has 9.2%, and another 12 candidates have less than half a per cent each.

Only a plurality is required, so Castro does not have to stay above 50%, and counting so far has been sufficiently uniform that only large-scale fraud could deny her the victory. Fraud, as it happens, is by no means unheard of in Honduras, and Asfura is yet to concede defeat, but the New York Times reports that the president of Honduras’s chamber of commerce has already congratulated Castro on her victory.

This is the left’s third attempt to undo the effects of the disputed events of 2009, in which a soft coup removed Manuel Zelaya from office and elections boycotted by the left returned the right to power. A reconciliation was subsequently patched up and Zelaya’s wife, Castro, ran for the presidency in 2013 for a new left-wing party, Libre – challenging the traditional duopoly of the National (right) and Liberal (centre) parties.

But the right held on, in a good demonstration of the problems of simple plurality systems. The National Party’s Juan Hernández prevailed with 36.9% of the vote against Castro’s 28.8%; the Liberal candidate had 20.3% and anti-corruption campaigner Salvador Nasralla had 13.4%.

Hernández then secured a change in the constitution to allow him to run for a second term (the very manoeuvre that had been used to justify Zelaya’s removal). Castro was again nominated by Libre, but instead agreed to run as Nasralla’s running mate on a unity ticket. Hernández was again successful, by a margin of just 50,000 votes, 43.0% to 41.4%, in a result that was widely condemned as fraudulent.

So this time, with Hernández out of the running, Castro tried again, and has done it handsomely. Given the precedents for dubious practice, a five or even ten point lead at this stage would not put her out of danger, but 350,000 votes is far too many to make up. Castro will become Honduras’s first female head of state.

Readers will know that I am deeply sceptical of the Latin American left. Its authoritarian tendencies have been on show in far too many places, including just this month in neighboring Nicaragua [link added], where president Daniel Ortega was re-elected in a sham poll (officially with 75.9% of the vote) after his leading opponents had all been imprisoned or exiled.

But that scepticism can’t be allowed to justify the anti-democratic tactics that the right has used in Honduras over the last twelve years. It’s good to see the country’s voters reaching the same conclusion.

UPDATE Tuesday 11.30pm (Honduras time): The official counting has advanced only slightly; it’s now on 53.2%, and Castro has dropped a little to 53.3%. But the BBC reports that Asfura has conceded defeat, raising hopes that the ruling party will allow a peaceful transfer of power. The United States, traditionally a big player in Honduras, has also sent its congratulations.

TWO DAYS LATER Thursday 8.15pm (Honduras time): Counting has got a bit of a move on, but it’s still extraordinarily slow. With 67.5% in, Castro is on 51.4%, about 375,000 votes ahead of Asfura on 35.5%; if she keeps slipping at the same rate she’ll finish below 50%, but that doesn’t really matter.

There’s no sign of any results for the legislature, but the New York Times has a good report on the prospects of an orderly transfer of power.

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