TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Honduras appeared headed toward days of political tension Sunday as the two leading candidates each declared they had won the presidency. With 43 percent of the votes counted, Juan Orlando Hernández, the conservative candidate of the National Party, led with 35 percent to 28.4 percent for Xiomara Castro, the candidate of the left-wing Libre party.
The dispute came at the end of a long campaign that has cracked open the country’s ossified politics. Castro, the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup four years ago, leads a new party that is challenging the political and business elites in one of Latin America’s poorest nations.
The race between her and Hernández, a former president of the National Congress, has been dominated by personality and ideology rather than specific proposals. Over 20 percent of the electorate was undecided before the vote, according to estimates, and voting was extended for an hour because of high turnout. Honduras, one of Latin America’s most economically unequal countries, is besieged by crime that has decimated the slums of its major cities, where residents have become the constant victims of gang violence, police corruption and drug trafficking.
Castro, 54, ran as a candidate of change, renewing her husband’s promise to rewrite the constitution to give the country’s impoverished majority a greater role. Hernández, 45, has focused on security, pinning his campaign on a new military police force that began to patrol the country’s most murderous neighborhoods five weeks ago.
The rest of the vote was divided among six other candidates, led by Mauricio Villeda, a leader of the traditional Liberal Party, who had about 21 percent of the vote in the early results. Salvador Nasralla, a television host running on an anti-corruption platform, was in fourth place. He said in a radio interview late Sunday that he rejected the official results. Regardless of the final result, it was clear that Honduran politics was entering a new, potentially messy period, when multiple parties would have to negotiate to get laws passed and new voices representing the county’s marginalized poor would get a hearing.
After the polls closed, activists flocked to watch the vote count. “I want to see that it’s transparent,” said Olga Check, 42, an accountant from central Tegucigalpa. She stood with a couple of dozen other people as each ballot was held up for display and placed on the correct pile. There is no second round, so whoever wins will have a weak mandate: No one is likely to take more than 40 percent of the vote.