Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro declared victory in the election on Sunday, as supporters danced outside her offices to celebrate the left’s return to power 12 years after her husband was deposed in a coup.
The election, which will elect Honduras’ first female president, appeared to go smoothly, in contrast to four years ago, when a close result resulted in a contested result and deadly protests following widespread allegations of irregularities.
With half of the votes counted, Castro, the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, held a nearly 20-point lead over Nasry Asfura, the capital’s mayor and ruling National Party candidate, who received 34% of the vote, according to a preliminary tally released on Monday.
As the vote count came in and her lead remained intact, jubilant celebrations erupted at Castro’s campaign headquarters. Asfura’s ruling conservative National Party offices were deserted.
In a country where few women hold public office, Castro won the support of a broad swath of Hondurans tired of corruption and the concentration of power that grew under the National Party.
“We have turned back authoritarianism,” she told supporters late Sunday, surrounded by Libre Party supporters, aides, and family, including her husband Zelaya, who was deposed when business and military elites banded together against him, ushering in a decade of National Party rule.
Depending on her policy choices, Castro may be able to reverse a weakening of the Honduran justice system that has benefited corrupt and criminal groups, a trend that has been observed throughout Central America in recent years.
She has promised to enlist the assistance of the United Nations in the fight against corruption. She promises to legalize abortion in some circumstances. She may establish diplomatic ties with Beijing, which Washington fears.
Business leaders congratulated Castro immediately, and he promised to work “hand in hand” with the private sector.
“We’re going to form a government of reconciliation, peace, and justice,” Castro said.
Critics, however, have painted her as a dangerous radical, recalling Zelaya’s close relationship with late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Castro promised to strengthen direct democracy by holding referendums on key policies in her speech. In other parts of Latin America, this tool has sometimes bolstered presidential power.
The coup against Zelaya was sparked by his planned referendum on constitutional reform, which included allowing a president to be reelected for a second term, with elites uneasy about his alliance with Chavez.
Despite such opposition to reelection, a high court packed with current President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s supporters later amended the constitution to allow him a second term. Castro thanked Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Twitter early Monday for congratulating her.
The election took place against a backdrop of poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, adding to anger fueled by scandals that contributed to record numbers of migrants fleeing to the United States.
Castro, who had previously run for president twice, capitalized on the unpopularity of outgoing Hernandez, who has been charged in a drug trafficking case in a US federal court.
Hernandez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but his party’s candidate, Asfura, was careful to distance himself from the president during the election campaign. A witness in a US court also accused Castro’s husband, Zelaya, of accepting a drug bribe. He denied the charge.
In a social media post, Asfura urged voters to be patient, but stopped short of conceding. The fate of Honduras’ 128-member Congress remained in the air with no preliminary results published by the electoral council. If the National Party can keep control, it could complicate life for a Castro administration.