TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Protests were growing in Honduras as incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez emerged with a slim lead Thursday for re-election following a reported computer glitch that shut down vote counting for several hours.
Challenger Salvador Nasralla has alleged fraud and said he won’t respect the official results. He’s watched an initial five-point lead diminish in recent days as official results have trickled out. By early Thursday, Hernandez was ahead by about 22,000 votes, with about 88 percent of Sunday’s votes processed. He had 42.4 percent of the vote to Nasralla’s 41.7 percent.
Opposition supporters protested through the night outside the electoral court’s facilities, setting up some highway roadblocks and lighting fires in the streets. Police responded with tear gas as calls to maintain calm were increasingly unheeded.
Other protesters from the country’s interior gathered on the capital’s outskirts Thursday, preparing to march in protest. Riot police equipped with batons and tear gas closed two central boulevards. Vehicles with water cannons for crowd control were visible.
Many schools and universities in the capital announced they would be closed through the weekend to keep students out of harm’s way. Nasralla via Twitter asked his supporters to continue to protest peacefully and not be provoked into violence. Luis Zelaya, candidate for the Liberal Party, who was running a distant third in the tally, called for his supporters to “defend democracy.”
Court president David Matamoros said complete results will be available Thursday afternoon. Former President Manuel Zelaya, whose Libre party was part of Nasralla’s coalition, called for observers from the Organization of American States and European Union to organize a public count of ballots to alleviate concerns of manipulation. He spoke on Honduras’ Canal 5 television Thursday.
“That is a practical and definitive solution to exit the crisis Hernandez has gotten us into,” said Zelaya, who was ousted from office in a coup orchestrated by Hernandez’s National Party in 2009. He was accused of plotting to violate the constitution by seeking just the sort of re-election that Hernandez is trying for.
But the ruling National Party showed no sign of backing down. Party director Jesus Mejia told The Associated Press that with the remaining votes coming from rural areas, Hernandez would win by more than 50,000 votes.
Both candidates have declared themselves the winner. Late Wednesday, Nasralla disavowed an agreement he and Hernandez had signed with the Organization of American States to respect the official results.
“I signed that document before the electoral court’s computing center went down, and that was a trap,” Nasralla said at a news conference. “The agreement with the OAS was to respect trustworthy results without alterations … and the court has altered the documents in the last two days. That is unacceptable.”
Hernandez said he would respect the result and called for calm while the final votes were counted. Matamoros said the computer problem was resolved and did not affect the vote.