The controversial election results in Honduras threaten to derail the positive developments the country has experienced in recent years.

Four days after the presidential elections in Honduras, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), in charge of overseeing the ballot, is yet to declare an official winner. After a count of 95 percent of the votes, the incumbent, right-wing Juan Orlando Hernandez, is said to hold a narrow lead over his main opponent the colorful former Pepsi executive and TV sports journalist Salvador Nasralla who helmed an anti-corruption center-left coalition.

But those results seem suspicious, to say the least. The evolution of the vote count since the closing of the polling stations have cast very serious doubts over the legitimacy of a Hernandez win. 

Prior to the election, international observers were able to test the efficiency of voting equipment during a prior simulation of a vote count. They were able to confirm the reliability and transparency of the election process with local results sent electronically to the TSE in just a few hours. However, after the first vote counts started showing a strong 5 percent lead for the opposition leader, TSE abruptly stopped communicating any results for 36 hours claiming that its computer system “went down”.

For weeks, the opposition had warned against attempts to rig the elections and put forth several arguments including the leaked recording of a training session during which Hernandez supporters were taught how to implement a “plan B” to alter the election results.

The Nasralla team ran a convincing campaign against what they perceived as the instauration of a dictatorship in the country. Indeed Hernandez was only allowed to run because of a convenient 2015 Supreme Court decision which overturned a constitutional ban on reelection. This question was always a highly controversial topic in Honduras as former president Manuel Zelaya – now a staunch Nasralla supporter – had been deposed and exiled for presumably attempting to modify the law and seek reelection himself in 2009.

Supporters of Nasralla have therefore taken to the streets to demand a recount. The country—which had recorded very encouraging success recently with a sharp improvement of its economy and a decrease of insecurity—is now sinking into institutional chaos yet again. The bullish move from Hernandez to repeal the presidential term limit was rightly seen by the population as an attempt to maintain his grip on a country that regularly suffered from the weakness of its political institutions.

However, Hondurans also confirmed their wish to continue the reforms initiated over the last few years. During his first term, Hernandez had implemented a more business-friendly and conservative political platform encouraging investments and modernising the country’s economy. In three years, his government was able to divide the fiscal deficit by three and reduce the number of homicides by close to 50 percent.  

The results of the vote in Honduras show that the population is keen on pursuing these efforts but expressed their determination to oppose any increased authoritarianism from their president. As a result, if Hernandez resorted to fraudulent practices to steal a reelection, his party “Partido Nacional” single-handedly won both the local and general elections on the same date.

By casting their vote for Nasralla in proportions that the Hernandez administration had not expected, thus prompting desperate fraud tactics, Hondurans have confirmed their distrust for a political elite marred by corruption scandals. 

Nasralla was an anti-establishment candidate and answered a longing for transparency. Nasralla should not be compared with Jimmy Morales, the former comic actor who became president of Guatemala in 2016. The former TV host held executive positions in the prior sectors and displayed for decades on TV his taste for knowledge and the capacity to break down complex arguments.

The likelihood that Honduras will now face difficult weeks of civil unrest is a shame because the country held the seeds of a sustained recovery. Over the last few years several businesses have started to flourish in the textile, call centre and car manufacturing sectors. It also benefits from mining resources, which could be exploited sustainably.

As opposed to many countries in Latin America, Honduras is not plagued by a sterile ideological opposition between far right and far left. The country had also made strong progress in fighting drug trafficking and gang warfare, receiving praise from the United States and the European Union. 

Both Washington and Brussels however need to step in to demand accountability of the electoral authorities. Turning a blind eye to the likely fraud would prove to be an historic error as it would antagonise a population who expressed their request for greater transparency and the respect of fragile institutions.

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