After 12 years of conservative and neoliberal rule, Hondurans are set to have a leftist leader with Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) Party ready to become the first woman president of the Central American nation. Her husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted in the US-backed coup d’état in 2009.
Preliminary results of Sunday’s presidential elections showed that with 51.32% of the votes counted, Castro leads the race with a 20% margin by garnering 53.61% of the votes. Nasry Asfura of the ruling National Party with 33.87% of the votes and Yani Rosenthal of the Liberal Party with 9.21% of the votes are second and third respectively.
“We win! Today, the people have made justice. We have reversed authoritarianism. Never again will power be abused in this country because from this moment on, the people will be the eternal current in Honduras,” Castro said at a press conference at the party headquarters in capital Tegucigalpa following the preliminary results, according to Peoples Dispatch, which reports on people’s movements and organisations across the globe.
Declaring that she would form a government of reconciliation, peace and justice, Castro promised to build participatory democracy in the country and engage in permanent dialogue with Hondurans. The leader also indicated that she would call all the political and social sectors that supported her to discuss and establish bases for the next government.
Expressing his gratitude for the resounding triumph, Zelaya tweeted: “Thank you people! You are the protagonist of History. We will Never fail you.”
According to a document outlining her government’s plans, referendums and consultations on big policy changes will be central to Castro’s goal of participatory democracy, Reuters reported. She has promised to convene a national assembly that could allow her to move ahead on Zelaya’s 2009 proposal of overhauling the Constitution that guarantees social and economic rights.
Castro was active in policymaking and pushed for social programmes and subsidies for poor children, women and the elderly during Zelaya’s presidency.
Castro’s agenda includes decriminalisation of abortion, reduction of bank charges for remittances, creation of a UN-backed anti-corruption commission and repeal of new laws that she says feed corruption and drug trafficking.
Castro, who had helmed a protest movement after Zelaya’s ouster, has vowed to pull Honduras “out of the abyss” of corruption, Reuters reported. “I believe firmly that the democratic socialism I propose is the solution to pull Honduras out of the abyss we have been buried in by neo-liberalism, a narco-dictator and corruption,” she had said in a campaign speech.
President Juan Orlando Hernández and his conservative National Party have been mired in a string of corruption and drug trafficking allegations in the last four years, according to The Guardian. One of Hernández’s brothers was convicted of drug trafficking in New York, and he himself has been accused by prosecutors of overseeing state-sponsored drug trafficking. The National Party, which spent eight years dismantling the democratic institutions, had sought to portray Castro as a dangerous radical in order to remain in power.
Hondurans flocked to the polls in near-record numbers with hundreds of Castro’s supporters flooding the streets of Tegucigalpa on Sunday night and setting off fireworks in celebration. “We are celebrating because the corrupt are no longer going to govern Honduras,” said Oliver Pindel, 50, a doctor who danced while draped in a Honduran flag.
Local television showed images of small crowds chanting “Juanchi, you’re off to New York!”, referring to the accusations made against Hernández in, at least, two drug trafficking cases conducted by prosecutors from the Southern District of New York.
The voter turnout was the highest in more than two decades with National Electoral Council president Kelvin Aguirre reporting that more than 68% of the registered voters participated in “a historic turnout”. Around 5.2 million Hondurans also voted to elect 128 members of the National Congress, 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament, 298 mayors and 2,092 councillors for 2022-2026.
Though the election was largely peaceful and orderly, technological shortfalls and fears of fraud clouded polling. “I hope that these elections will be transparent and there won’t be the same vote-buying as always,” said Dina Padilla, who voted in the working-class neighbourhood of Pedregal in Tegucigalpa.
Aguirre pointed out that “the new biometric verification system has been a determining factor in ensuring the purity and transparency of the process”. The 2017 elections were marked by widespread irregularities which sparked social protests across the country demanding an election redo. Hernández imposed a curfew and unleashed violent police repression against protesters in which more two dozen people were killed. Three weeks later, he was declared the winner and managed to secure a second term.
Civil society organisations and progressive sectors were better prepared this time to defend democracy and had declared that they wouldn’t let the military and the business elites manipulate and steal the elections again.