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Right-Wing Honduras Government Cracks Down as Protests Grow Over Alleged Vote-Rigging

Leftist coalition is charging fraud as ruling party, which came to power under U.S.-backed coup in 2009, faces growing outrage and demonstrations

Supporters of presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla clash with police as they wait for official presidential election results in Tegucigalpa. (Photo: Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

Honduras' electoral crisis continued to simmer on Friday with the winner still undeclared amid a violent crackdown on protesters and claims of vote-rigging.

The election took place Sunday, and the head of the electoral authority, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE), said that a special review of a final batch of electoral reports, representing roughly 6 percent of the ballots, would begin Friday, and that a winner would not be declared until that had been completed. Some of the electoral reports contained "inconsistencies," the TSE argued.

Immediately after the election, results had pointed to opposition contender Salvador Nasralla, who's heading a leftist coalition, beating out incumbent President and "reliable" U.S. ally Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Reuters reported that

a delayed, partial count on Monday morning pointed toward an unexpected victory for TV entertainer Salvador Nasralla, 64. Inexplicably, election authorities then stopped giving results for more than 24 hours.

It was a five-point lead, which election official Marcos Ramiro Lobo told Reuters was too big for Hernandez to overcome.

When, under mounting criticism from international election monitors over a lack of transparency, the electoral tribunal began updating its website again, the tendency rapidly began to change.

The Associated Press reports that on

Thursday night, Hernandez was ahead by more than 45,000 votes with nearly 93 percent of Sunday's votes processed. He had 42.9 percent of the vote to Nasralla's 41.4 percent.

In a statement released Thursday, the Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States (EOM/OAS) called on the TSE "to process 100 percent of the ballots, including those that must be processed through a special count, before proclaiming the results given the fact that, due to the narrow margins of the presidential election, these ballots may be decisive."

According to Latin America expert Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "One thing that hasn't changed since Election Day: these 'exit polls' touted by the government [showing Hernandez with a lead] were clearly bogus."

Reporting by the Los Angeles Times notes that there are several facts that bolster the fears of voter fraud:

The election tribunal is appointed by Congress, which is controlled by Hernandez's National Party. Hernandez also controls the army—which is charged with transporting ballots—as well as all appeals processes.

Backers of Nasralla and his Alliance Against Dictatorship say members of the tribunal manipulated results in favor of Hernandez, which the tribunal denies. Leaders of the coalition, along with representatives of a political party whose candidate was in third place, say vote tallies provided to the parties at each polling place after the vote show Nasralla is the clear victor.

In an explainer on the election, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas also notes that "Juan Orlando Hernandez supported the 2009 ousting of Manuel Zelaya when the Chavez ally made steps to win a second term. Eight years later, Hernandez is seeking reelection himself."

Hernandez's critics have been taking to the streets. AP reported that on Thursday,

Opposition supporters protested throughout the day and into the night outside the electoral court's facilities and on major boulevards, setting up roadblocks and lighting bonfires in the streets. Hooded demonstrators threw rocks and pieces of wood at riot police carrying batons and shields, who responded forcefully with tear gas and water cannons as calls to maintain calm were increasingly unheeded.

The violence sent 10 people to the hospital with injuries, including one child.

"It is very disturbing that the ruling government has massively deployed the military across the country, which could lead to widespread violence," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of U.S.-based human rights advocacy group Grassroots International. "Now they are positioning themselves to declare victory and instilling fear in the population."

Honduras Solidarity Network tweeted out images of the protests, including graffiti on a street that read "Fuera JOH narcodictador" or "get out JOH, drug-dictator," referring to Juan Orlando Hernandez .

According to justice advocacy organization Rights Action, that's "[m]ore than a slogan. Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) is directly linked (same as many of Honduras' political-economic-military elites that carried out the US & Canadian-backed coup in 2009) to organized crime and narco-trafficking."

Days before the election, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) warned that "Hernandez is inching closer and closer to authoritarian rule and all-out dictatorship. If he succeeds in re-electing himself, the United States should make it clear that we see his power grab for what it is. We should withdraw our unconditional support, roll back the millions of dollars we send Honduras in security aid every year, and make it clear that we do not tolerate autocratic behavior by our allies."

School of the Americas Watch echoed that message in an email to supporters Thursday evening. "After eight years of repression unleashed by the 2009 SOA-graduate led military coup, the U.S. continues financing and supporting those who came to power," the group wrote. "As thousands upon thousands of Hondurans once again take to the streets to demand respect for the popular will and a fair and transparent counting of the votes that were actually cast, the U.S. must stop propping up the repressive regime and cease financing the security forces before they unleash violence."

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