Election crisis engulfs Honduras with rivals neck-and-neck

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Election crisis engulfs Honduras with rivals neck-and-neck

TEGUCIGALPA: Honduras grappled with a slow-motion political crisis on Wednesday, with its president, a crime-fighting U.S. ally, edging ahead of his rival, a TV star whose supporters protested as his early lead in the weekend election evaporated.

Three days after polling stations closed in Honduras’ presidential election, there was growing international concern and still a fifth of ballots left to count with no clear victor.

With around 82.89 percent of ballots counted, center-right President Juan Orlando Hernandez had 42.2 percent of the vote and challenger Salvador Nasralla was on 42.1 percent, the election tribunal said, with the president 3,000 votes in the lead.

Hernandez’s blue-clad supporters celebrated, chanting the president’s name at a base of his National Party in capital Tegucigalpa, TV images showed.

The flamboyant Nasralla, 64, who heads a coalition made up of leftist and centrist parties, had initially taken a strong lead against the center-right Hernandez.

But after issuing the first batch of results on Monday, the election tribunal went silent for about 36 hours, which it said was because results had been slow to arrive. It began issuing a fresh count sporadically from Tuesday afternoon.

Immediately, Hernandez began closing the gap, prompting Nasralla to say his victory was being stolen, and urge his supporters to take to the streets in protest.

“We’ve already won the election,” Nasralla said in an angry television interview late on Tuesday. “I‘m not going to tolerate this.”

However, both candidates committed to respect the final result once every disputed vote had been scrutinized, issuing identical signed statements brokered by the Organization of American States on Wednesday afternoon.

International observers said the delays were damaging the credibility of authorities and threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the next president.

On Wednesday, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman urged Honduran authorities to review the election results without undue delay.

“It’s critical that Honduran election authorities be able to work in a free and transparent manner without interference. We urge all candidates to respect the results,” Heather Nauert said.