TEGUCIGALPA: Both leading presi-dential candidates in crime-wracked Honduras declared victory late Sunday (Monday in Manila), setting the stage for a possible round of street protests and violence in one the world’s deadliest countries.
With more than half the votes counted, conservative Juan Orlando Hernandez was ahead with 34 percent against 29 percent for leftist Xiomara Castro.
Castro is the wife of Manuel Zelaya, the cattle rancher who was elected president as a conservative and ousted at gunpoint in June 2009 after he aligned with the leftist governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
“I will be the next president of Honduras. And I am going to do everything it takes to bring peace back to the people,” Hernandez told a roaring crowd of supporters, citing the early official results.
Castro, however, had already declared victory.
“Today, we can say that we have won,” a rejoicing Castro told reporters soon after polls closed.
On her Twitter account, Castro said, “Based on exit polls that I have received from around the country, I can tell you: I am the president of Honduras.”
Hernandez and Castro are vying to succeed President Porfirio Lobo, who was elected after the coup in a controversial election boycotted by Zelaya’s leftist allies.
Castro, 54, with the Libre Party, hopes to become the first female president of Honduras, the poorest country in the Americas after Haiti. An estimated 71 percent of the population lives in poverty.
Hernandez, the 45-year-old head of congress from the ruling National Party, is a law-and-order conservative who has vowed to use soldiers to control crime.
His message has resonance in this country of 8.5 million that records 20 murders a day—the highest rate in the world, according to United Nations figures.