Honduras set for woman president as leftist Castro declares victory

General election in Honduras
1 / 4Honduras set for woman president as leftist Castro declares victoryGeneral election in Honduras

By Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduran opposition leader Xiomara Castro declared victory in Sunday's presidential election as initial results pointed to a landslide win that would put the left back in power for the first time since her husband was ousted in a coup 12 years ago.

With nearly 45% of 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 hopeful, winning over 53% support to his 34% according to a preliminary tally.

In contrast to four years ago, the election that could give Honduras its first female president seemed poised to conclude without violent protests, barring an even bigger reversal of fortune than the sudden swing in the vote count that marred the 2017 contest after the tally had stopped for hours.

This year's election took place against a backdrop of corruption scandals and social unrest in the central American country fueled by an ailing economy and chronic gangland violence that has pushed record numbers of migrants to give up on their homeland.

A self-proclaimed democratic socialist in a country where very few women hold positions of power, Castro vowed to stamp out graft during her campaign.

“We have turned back authoritarianism,” she told supporters late on Sunday, surrounded by her Libre Party faithful, aides and family, including her husband Zelaya, who was ousted when business and military elites allied against him, ushering in a dozen years of right-wing rule.

“We're going to form a government of reconciliation, a government of peace and justice,” Castro added.

She also vowed to strengthen direct democracy by holding referendums – a tool that has been repeatedly employed by Mexico's leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Critics have painted her as a dangerous left-wing radical, but business leaders quickly offered their congratulations.

“The private sector is committed to doing everything needed so that your administration is an example of transformation,” wrote Eduardo Facusse, a leader of the country's top chamber of commerce, in a post on Twitter on Sunday night.

Castro, who had run twice before for the presidency, seized on the unpopularity of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who changed the constitution to allow for his disputed 2017 re-election and was later implicated in a drug trafficking case in a U.S. federal court.

Hernandez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but his party's candidate Asfura was at pains to keep his distance from the president during the election campaign.

Asfura urged voters to show patience in a social media post on Sunday night, but stopped short of conceding.

The fate of Honduras' 128-member Congress also remained up in the air with no preliminary results yet published by the electoral council. If the National Party can keep control, it could complicate life for a Castro administration.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and David Alire Garcia; editing by Richard Pullin)

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