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Ignoring Critics, Commission Declares Honduran President Winner of Disputed Election

Posted December 17, 2017 10:46 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2017 10:47 p.m. EST

MEXICO CITY — The Honduran electoral commission on Sunday declared President Juan Orlando Hernández the victor in a bitterly contested race, defying international observers who say there are serious doubts about the results.

The electoral commission, which is controlled by allies of Hernández, said he had won by about 50,000 votes over the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla.

The announcement seemed likely to escalate the political crisis that has gripped Honduras since the Nov. 27 vote.

David Matamoros, the electoral commission president and a member of the president’s National Party, declared a winner despite a call from the Organization of American States to hold back. Its secretary-general, Luis Almagro, said on Twitter that the OAS observer mission “concludes that serious doubts about the results persist.”

“The lack of certainty leads me to ask for no irresponsible pronouncements” until the observer mission gives its report, Almagro wrote.

The electoral commission’s declaration came as Nasralla was on his way to Washington to meet with the Organization of American States and the State Department.

In a video posted on his Facebook page from the airport in Miami, Nasralla said, “The fight continues and will continue.” He said the result announced by the commission “has no validity simply because the Organization of American States, of which Honduras is a member, does not endorse the results.”

In a sign that Hernández was prepared to challenge OAS directly, the president’s top adviser, Ebal Diaz, accused Almagro of violating the observation mission’s protocols and of “generating more violence.”

“You have been irresponsible, allowing a member of your team to scheme with” Nasralla “to try and steal the election,” wrote Diaz, the executive secretary of the president’s council of ministers.

On Friday, a national strike led to clashes between protesters and the military police at roadblocks around the country. At least 22 people have been killed since the disputed vote, according to the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, a human rights group.

Preliminary results on election night suggested that Nasralla had a strong lead, but the count was then stopped for more than a day. When the counting resumed, Hernández was reported to have begun closing the gap as new results were registered. Eventually, the electoral commission’s tally gave him a small lead.

Election observers from the OAS said on Dec. 6 that the “irregularities, mistakes and systemic problems plaguing this election make it difficult” to be “certain about the outcome.”

The organization backed a call for a partial recount, and the electoral commission went ahead with the tally. The alliance of leftist parties backing Nasralla, as well as a third party, the Liberal Party, handed over their copies of the tally sheets from polling places to the OAS and asked for a full recount.

On Sunday, Matamoros, the electoral commission president, said in a brief televised statement that the agency had complied with all the OAS recommendations.

Election observers from the European Union said Sunday that the opposition had failed to show a significant difference between their copies of the tally sheets and those that were counted by the electoral tribunal. But the group said the tribunal and the Honduran Supreme Court should consider any additional appeals.

The election result creates a dilemma for the Trump administration, which has pressed in public for a transparent vote count but said nothing about irregularities.

Two days after the election, the State Department certified that the Honduran government was making progress on improving human rights and tackling widespread corruption — a sign of support for Hernández. The Honduran president has proved to be a strong ally on the issues that matter most to the United States, interdicting drugs and dissuading migrants from making the long trip to the Texas border.

But that alliance could prove uncomfortable if Hernández begins his second term in January with his legitimacy under a cloud. Although Congress has supported aid to Honduras, legislators have already raised concern over the disputed vote count.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, who has held up delivery of some aid to the Honduran government over concerns about human rights, said Sunday that the election result “leaves too many questions unanswered.

“There were multiple opportunities for fraud in this election, and only a determination by impartial international observers that the vote tally was fair and transparent will provide the necessary credibility to the process,” he said in an emailed statement.

Leahy also called on the government to stop shooting at protesters. “There is no justification for the tragic loss of life that has occurred,” he wrote.

Nasralla’s alliance has called for protests on Monday. The Liberal party has scheduled protests for Tuesday.