TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – The outcome of the Honduran presidential election was still in limbo early on Tuesday, even after initial results suggested that a flamboyant TV host was on his way to a surprise victory over Juan Ballestero Hernandez, the leader of the United States.
One of the poorest nations in the Americas, Honduras, has been ravaged by years of gang violence, giving it one of the highest homicide rates in the world. However, Hernandez made inroads in solving the problem and was expected to win before the vote.
With around 70 percent of the ballots counted, television artist Salvador Nasralla led by a margin of five points, electoral official Marcos Ramiro Lobo told Reuters on Monday afternoon, at which time the updates of the results had stopped.
The advantage was too great for Hernandez to overcome, said Lobo, without saying what percentage of the votes Nasralla won. An initial account that covered more than half of the tickets early Monday gave Nasralla 45 percent and Hernandez 40 percent.
Later on Monday, David Matamoros, president of the electoral tribunal, said he could be ready to deliver more definitive results for Thursday, a breach that risks stoking tension in a violent country known for electoral struggles.
Nasralla, a self-styled centrist, led a left-right coalition called the opposition Alliance against the dictatorship, and claimed victory on Monday, as did Hernández.
Breaking up with court colleagues, Lobo said Nasralla seemed certain he would win, noting that the internal experts of the electoral body considered his leadership "irreversible."
Hernandez was credited with reducing the murder rate and boosting the economy, but was also hurt by accusations of links to illicit financing related to drugs that he denies.
His offer for a second term, made possible by a 2015 Supreme Court decision on term limits, divided opinion.
Washington sees Hernández as a reliable ally to confront drug trafficking and gangs, as well as to help control the flow of migrants to the United States. Nasralla at the helm would take the United States into unknown territory.
Many believe that the coalition coordinator Zelaya is the real force behind Nasralla. Although Zelaya is seen as a traditional Latin American leftist, Honduran business figures say he is a political opportunist and questioned his reliability.
Dave Graham edition; and Clarence Fernandez