Honduras' ruling party concedes presidential election to leftist

Ms Xiomara Castro has piled up a preliminary lead of almost 20 percentage points over National Party candidate Nasry Asfura. PHOTO: AFP

TEGUCIGALPA (REUTERS) - The ruling National Party of Honduras on Tuesday (Nov 30) conceded defeat in Sunday's presidential elections, leaving leftist candidate Xiomara Castro poised to become Honduras' first female leader after she built a big lead in a drawn-out vote count.

Mr Kilvett Zabdiel Bertrand, executive secretary of the National Party, told Radio America that he recognised Ms Castro's Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre) had triumphed, ending his conservative group's 12-year hold on power.

Without mentioning Ms Castro or Libre, the National Party later said that it would assume the role of "constructive opposition" and was willing to work with the incoming government, in a statement issued by party chief David Chavez.

Ms Castro has piled up a preliminary lead of almost 20 percentage points over National Party candidate Nasry Asfura.

With over 52 per cent of votes tallied by Tuesday evening in the sluggish count, Ms Castro had 53.4 per cent support, and Mr Asfura 34.1 per cent.

The concession brings to an end a turbulent period under the National Party, which has been dogged by scandals and corruption accusations, especially during the two terms of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Mr Hernandez is deeply unpopular and has been implicated in a drug trafficking case in a US federal court. He denies wrongdoing, but could face an indictment when he leaves office.

Ms Castro's victory will see the left return to power after a 12-year hiatus that followed the ousting of her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, in a coup in 2009.

Ms Castro has already hailed a "resounding victory in the whole country" and her supporters danced, cheered and waved flags in anticipation of Mr Hernandez's departure.

Ms Castro faces big challenges in Honduras, where joblessness, crime, corruption and the threat of transnational drug gangs have helped spur record migration to the United States.

She managed a strong showing in Sunday's election despite findings by the European Union vote observer mission that the National Party had used state resources to boost its campaign.

The smooth transmission of early election results had aided transparency and confidence, the EU mission said. But it criticised pre-election political violence and "abuse of state resources," such as a rise in handing out of welfare vouchers.

"The state media visibly favoured the ruling party and its presidential candidate," said the mission's head, Zeljana Zovko.

The vote count stopped for over a day on Monday morning, and its halting progress raised questions about the delay.

The drawn-out uncertainty stirred up memories of the 2017 presidential election, when the opposition candidate's lead suddenly began to evaporate after the electoral council restarted the tally following a lengthy suspension.

That interruption gave rise to accusations of fraud and deadly protests, but there has been no unrest so far this time, with voters reassured by Castro's much bigger lead.

Ms Castro's team is already preparing for government. Mr Hugo Noe, head of the campaign's policy platform, told Reuters Ms Castro will seek to negotiate a new debt deal with the International Monetary Fund when she takes office in January.

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