Ruling Party Leads Election Vote Totals In Honduras

The conservative ruling party appears to have held on to the presidency. Its candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, won over voters with his promise to do whatever it takes to combat rising violence and crime in the Central American nation.

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The Central American country of Honduras held a presidential election yesterday. Honduras suffers from extreme poverty and it has one of the world's highest murder rates. The nation's politics have been dominated by elites and the military. Now, so far the vote count appears to favor the candidates from the right wing ruling party, but this election offered a little more choice than usual. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At this elementary school in a working class neighborhood, in the heart of the capital, hundreds of voters line up to cast their vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: A poll worker tries to keep the line moving, and directs voters to the transparent boxes to deposit their ballots. Claudia Mondragon, a mother of three, says she waited an hour to vote. Well worth the time because she says Honduras needs a change.

CLAUDIA MONDRAGON: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Look, she says, we are tired and we need new options. Hondurans definitely got a lot of choices in this of election. Eight candidates ran for president. That's quite a change from the past 100 years where only two parties and the military traded power. But since a coup deposed the democratically elected president in 2009, several new parties have emerged.

The most prominent newcomer in this election is Libre, led by Xiomara Castro, the wife of the deposed former president. She was the frontrunner in the months leading up to the election, but in recent weeks the ruling party's candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, who ran on a hard line platform to deploy the military to combat Honduras's raging violence closed the gap and brought out the voters.

I'm at a high school in a neighborhood in Tegucigalpa at a voting precinct and the polls have just closed. And there are a crowd gathering right now, because not only is the first time so many candidates have vied for the presidency, but the vote counting is going to be public. And now the poll workers are just about ready to open up the sealed ballot box and count the votes.

(SOUNDBITE OF VOTE COUNTING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: Just a few hours later Orlando Hernandez took the stage to claim victory. Castro refused to concede while other candidates charged the ruling party with fraud. Such division has been the norm in the country since the coup four years ago ushered in a wave of violence that claimed the lives of journalists, judges and activists says Josue Morillo, of the Alliance for Peace and Justice, a coalition of civic and religious groups.

JOSUE MORILLO: It is still very polarized. I think we have not healed the wounds. You know, repression has that effect on people.

KAHN: The increased violence and a dire economic situation that has nearly two-thirds of the country living in poverty, has forced thousands of Hondurans to flee north to the U.S. The ruling party may have held onto the presidency but it did take a beating in the Congress. And that's what voter Nadia Moreira was hoping for. She voted to keep the National Party in the presidency, but split her vote among multiple parties in Congress.

NADIA MOREIRA: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: She says this is the best way to bring true democracy to the country. But the real power in Honduras, more so than any other country in the region, remains in the hands of a few wealthy families. And Julieta Castellanos, the highly respected Rector of the National University, says that isn't going to change easily.

JULIETA CASTELLANOSE: (Spanish spoken)

KAHN: The elites in this country are not interested in reforms. She says for them democracy is only acceptable when it leaves everything the way it is - in their hands. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tegucigalpa.

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