TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Honduras ruling party conceded defeat Tuesday in presidential elections held two days earlier, giving victory to leftist opposition candidate Xiomara Castro and easing fears of another contested vote and violent protests.
Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura of the National Party said in a statement that he had personally congratulated Castro, despite only about half the voting tallies being counted from Sunday's election.
Castro had 53% of the votes and Asfura 34%, with 52% of the tallies counted, according to the National Electoral Council. The council has 30 days from the election to declare a winner.
Asfura said he had met with Castro and her family.
“Now I want to say it publicly," the conservative candidate said. “That I congratulate her for her victory and as president elect, I hope that God illuminates and guides her so that her administration does the best for the benefit of all of us Hondurans, to achieve development and the desires for democracy.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Castro minutes later.
“The United States congratulates the people of Honduras on their election and Xiomara Castro on her historic victory as Honduras’ first female president,” Blinken said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the next government of Honduras. We congratulate Hondurans for the high voter turnout, peaceful participation, and active civil society engagement that marked this election, signaling an enduring commitment to the democratic process.”
Asfura’s recognition of the outcome was a relief to many Hondurans who had feared a contested election after a debacle in 2017 led to street protests that left 23 people dead.
Castro rode a wave of popular discontent with 12 years of National Party governance, which peaked in the second term of outgoing President Juan Orlando Hernández.
Expectations of a Castro victory drove thousands into the streets of Tegucigalpa Sunday in celebration. On Monday, the capital’s streets were quiet as if it were a holiday and on Tuesday Hondurans exhaled in relief that the election had not taken a violent turn.
But Castro will face major challenges.
Unemployment is above 10%, northern Honduras was devastated by two major hurricanes last year and street gangs drag down the economy with their extortion rackets and violence.
On Tuesday, Vielka Yossira López folded jeans at a stand in the sprawling Comayaguela street market.
The 24-year-old single mother of two said she didn’t vote, but hoped for change.
“How am I going to lose a day of work to go vote,” López said. “I don’t work, I don’t eat.”
When López contracted COVID-19, she wasn’t able to work for two months. In that time she sold her bed, her refrigerator, television and cellphone so she could buy food and diapers for her children, ages 3 and 6.
López makes 200 lempiras, about $8.25 per day. She pays $1.60 of that just for transportation to and from work each day.
Her 6-year-old has been out of school for more than a year. Initially, it was the pandemic, but then it was the cost of getting him there. She said he’s smart and she wants him to resume her studies, but for now it works better to pay the babysitter to keep an eye on both kids.
López is hopeful that if Castro becomes president she will bring with her a better understanding of what it takes to raise a family.
“Hopefully there will be a change by having a woman,” López said. “She has children and everything.”
Christopher Sherman, The Associated Press