Still No Clear Winner In Honduras Election
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
More than two weeks after Hondurans went to the polls to elect a new president, there is still no official winner. The current president holds a slight lead, but officials have yet to declare him the winner amid allegations of widespread fraud. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: For days, dozens of workers have been poring over election ballots, nearly one third of all votes cast. It's an unprecedented endeavor encouraged by international observers hoping to find a resolution to the political standoff.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: The workers fill a huge warehouse - in teams of three and under the watchful eyes of roaming observers, inspect each ballot. A worker reads aloud the candidates' checked name.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: The scene looked right out of the Bush-Gore recount 2000 minus the hanging chads. But yesterday, as Honduras's first-ever electoral recount came to an end, it was clear nothing had changed. Election officials say Juan Orlando Hernandez, the incumbent president, still held a small lead over his closest opponent, political newcomer and popular TV star Salvador Nasralla.
Yesterday, Nasralla supporters once again took to the streets.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)
MACARIO MEJIA: (Singing in Spanish).
KAHN: This march, which stretched down blocks of the capital, was more peaceful than past demonstrations when 14 people died in clashes with police and hundreds were arrested. Standing on the back of a pickup truck, Nasralla told the crowd the election and the just completed recount were rigged.
SALVADOR NASRALLA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "We want the election annulled and for an independent international body to do a total recount, vote by vote," says Nasralla.
Nasralla's allegations of fraud have been backed up by international observers, who cite irregularities in the election process - among the most puzzling, an inexplicable glitch that shut down the election tribunal's tallying computer for more than 36 hours. Before the computer went dark, Nasralla had a 5-point lead. But when the machine came back online, the tables had turned, and the president was winning. Separate analysis by The Economist magazine and the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research showed a substantial surge in votes for Hernandez after the computer glitch. That increase was particularly pronounced in towns like La Paz, about two hours west of the capital.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: In the town's crowded outdoor market, sellers hawk everything from bras and nail polish to cellphone chargers. This 20-year-old man was too afraid to give his name but said lots of his friends got paid to vote for Hernandez - most for about $20.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: If you waited until the polls were almost closing, you got even more money. He said he would have sold his vote but couldn't leave his stand unattended.
The political unrest has put this poor and dangerous country on edge. Despite tens of millions of dollars in U.S. antinarcotics aid, Honduras continues to be plagued by violent drug gangs and one of the world's highest murder rates. Supporters of President Hernandez, a close U.S. ally, say he has done much to cut that crime rate and voters rewarded him fair and square. Ebal Diaz, the president's spokesman, says the opposition are sore losers.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
EBAL DIAZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: "Each day, they ask for something more. They'll never be satisfied," he says.
Hernandez also built parks in high-crime neighborhoods, like this one in the 21 of February Neighborhood. Hanging out above new skateboard ramps, Roberto Perez, who works for Hernandez government, says he didn't vote for his boss. He says he was forced to impersonate a poll worker of another party on election day but refused to stuff ballot boxes with Hernandez votes, as ordered.
ROBERTO PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Hernandez picked the wrong generation to mess with, says the 27-year-old. He's been out in near daily protests with the opposition. For now, it's unclear when the conflict will be resolved. Honduras' electoral tribunal has until December 26 to declare an official winner.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tegucigalpa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.