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Zelaya declared winner in Honduras election

A wealthy landowner who promised to battle corruption was declared Honduras’ president-elect Monday by an election official from his party, but the results were immediately contested.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A wealthy landowner who promised to battle corruption was declared Honduras’ president-elect Monday by an election official from his party, but the results were immediately contested by his opponent and a rival election official.

Supreme Electoral Tribunal President Aristides Mejia, of the Liberal Party, declared Manuel Zelaya the winner of Sunday’s race, but tribunal members said preliminary official results would not be available until Tuesday at the earliest.

Zelaya’s opponent, Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the ruling National Party, refused to concede, saying the votes had not yet been counted in full. On Monday night Jacobo Hernandez, an electoral tribunal representative and also a member of the National Party, echoed his complaint and said Mejia’s declaration in favor of Zelaya was “absurd.”

“We haven’t released official results,” he said.

The tribunal said Sunday night that Zelaya had 50.8 percent of the vote to 45.2 percent for Lobo Sosa of the governing National Party, but on Monday added that the numbers were based on a small number of votes.

National Party President Gilberto Goldstein said Monday that too few votes had been tallied to establish a winner and that his party would not accept the election results until all the votes were counted. He accused Mejia of declaring Zelaya the winner prematurely.

Mejia on Monday urged Lobo Sosa to concede defeat.

Lobo Sosa “should admit that there is a winner ... and that winner is President-elect Manuel Zelaya,” Mejia told Channel 5. “It is necessary that the nation knows this situation.”

Lobo Sosa assured hundreds of his supporters at the National Party headquarters Monday night that he had not given up.

“I’m going to defend the right of my people to have their votes counted,” he shouted, shaking his fist in the air.

‘Maintain calm’
In a news release Monday evening, outgoing President Ricardo Maduro, of the National Party, urged both candidates and the voters to “maintain calm, peace and order ... while the results of yesterday’s vote are determined officially.”

The release noted that the election was close and urged both parties to “be prudent when it comes to making statements, and wait for the results of all the balloting.”

The president met with each of the candidates Monday morning, the release said.

Zelaya’s supporters flooded the streets of the capital, waving the Liberal Party’s red-and-white flag, flashing their cars’ headlights and blowing horns to celebrate what they called a certain victory.

Zelaya also warned that Maduro’s “refusal to accept the defeat of his party is very dangerous for the country ... and I can’t take responsibility for what happens to our democratic system if Maduro continues with that position.”

Zelaya said Monday he already was forming work committees, preparing official visits to other countries and setting up meetings with business groups and social organizations.

“The decision the people made requires that we get to work now for Honduras, leave behind the campaign and start meeting with the people,” he said at a news conference in his home. “This country urgently needs solutions, and we can’t lock ourselves away until January. We have to begin now.”

Salvadoran President Tony Saca’s office said he planned to meet with Zelaya on Tuesday in El Salvador.

‘Citizens’ power’
Zelaya, a tall, wealthy agricultural landowner widely recognized by his thick black mustache, cowboy boots and large white Stetson, has railed against alleged government corruption and said he supports life sentences for violent criminals who are “beyond rehabilitation.”

Under a “citizens’ power” plan to combat corruption, Zelaya promised to pass a transparency law and implement a civil assembly to monitor the government.

He also has promised to create 400,000 jobs in four years in Honduras, which has poverty and unemployment rates of 71 percent and 46 percent, respectively.

Lobo Sosa, also a wealthy agricultural landowner and the current president of Congress, pledged to create 600,000 jobs and implement the death penalty in order to achieve “a peaceful country, without criminals.”

Traditionally, the results of national elections in Honduras are tallied rapidly by computer and released the same day of the vote.

On Sunday, however, election officials experienced technical problems that delayed final results, Mejia said.

The Organization of American States, which sent 114 observers to the elections, said Sunday that despite delays and scattered complaints of irregularities, the difficulties “did not alter the process as a whole.”

Sunday’s balloting was the seventh consecutive democratic election for this country, which abandoned more than two decades of military rule in 1981. Maduro was prohibited by law from seeking re-election and leaves office Jan. 27.