Hondurans Pack Polling Places To Vote For President

Hondurans are going to the polls Sunday to elect a new president. Crime, gangs and drug cartel violence have made Honduras the most dangerous country, of those not at war, in the world. If that weren't enough to compel voters, Honduras's economy is nearly bankrupt and many live in poverty. Host Arun Rath talks to NPR's Carrie Kahn, who's been monitoring voting in the country's capital.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

Hondurans are choosing a new president today. It may be the closest contest in recent history. The elections come only four years after a coup deposed the left-leaning president. His wife is now running among a field of eight candidates. More than 800 international observers will be monitoring the elections, which come at a difficult time. The Central American nation's economy is on the brink of collapse. Drug trafficking and gang violence have made the murder rate one of the highest in the world.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has been out all day monitoring the voting and joins us from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Carrie, welcome.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me.

RATH: So it sounds like a very tense time in Honduras. Can you tell us how the voting has gone so far today?

KAHN: It definitely is a difficult time in Honduras. But so far, today, it's been very calm overall. There's been a few incidences. But we've been to several polling places, working class neighborhoods where we went to a polling place that was just jam-packed with people very crowded. Right now, we're at the university, and voter turnout seems like it's pretty high today. So that's a very interesting thing for Honduras.

But, as you said, it's a tense time and crime is definitely one of the main concerns on voters' minds. You know, as you said, Honduras has the infamy of the world's highest murder rate. There's a lot of drug trafficking, a lot of impunity here, a corrupt police force. Extortion and corruption at all levels is easily, I can say, rampant right now.

RATH: So, Carrie, tell us about the candidates who are running.

KAHN: The most interesting thing is that there are eight candidates vying for the presidency, but the two top candidates is the wife of the deposed president. Her name is Xiomara Castro. And she is running on a platform of pretty much trying to re-establish what happened before the coup. Her husband has been by her side at all campaign rallies. And so it is a chance for people to bring him back.

The second major candidate is the all-powerful president of the congress, and he's from one of the major - the two traditional parties, the National Party, which is the ruling party. And he is a law and order man. His main slogan is he's going to do whatever it takes to bring peace to Honduras. And that includes his plan to put a soldier on every corner.

RATH: Given all of the problems that we've talked about, what are the chances of the country faring better going forward?

KAHN: Well, it's very interesting because what they're going to have to take care of most definitely is the economy. It's in shambles. And both of the two major contenders, those who are at the top of the polls say that they need to re-engage with the IMF, which is most important. They lost IMF funding - cooperation with the IMF after the coup. And they need that money.

Honduras is in incredible debt. It can't pay its workers. It can't pay its doctors, teachers. It's borrowing on the international market. Both have said they'll re-engage with the IMF, but that's a very difficult thing because that implies a lot of austerity measures. And in a country where there's underemployment and unemployment of two-thirds of the people, it's going to be very difficult to implement all that. So going forward, it's going to be challenging, whoever wins this election.

RATH: NPR's Carrie Kahn has been reporting on the voting in Honduras. She spoke with us from the capital Tegucigalpa. Carry, thank you.

KAHN: No, thank you very much for having me.

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