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Leftist candidate set for big win in Honduras election

A leftwing candidate is set to become Latin America’s only female leader after taking a substantial lead over the ruling party in Honduras’s presidential election with promises to tackle corruption and inequality.

With more than half the ballots counted, Xiomara Castro, 62, had won 53.6 per cent of the vote. The ruling party’s candidate, Nasry Asfura, who is mayor of the country’s capital Tegucigalpa, had 33.9 per cent, the country’s electoral authority said Monday.

Castro, the wife of a former president deposed in a coup, calls herself a democratic socialist and heads an alliance of opposition groups that sought to unseat the rightwing National party in the Central American nation of almost 10m people.

“Today the people have done justice, we turned back authoritarianism,” Castro told jubilant supporters on Sunday night.

Honduran politics is dogged by corruption and links to drug trafficking. Incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández was named as an alleged co-conspirator in a US drug trafficking case in which his brother was jailed for life this year.

Asfura was last year accused of corruption by Honduran prosecutors over about $1m in public money allegedly diverted from public coffers. Running third in the presidential race is Yani Rosenthal, who recently served a three-year US prison sentence for money laundering.

Asfura, who has not yet conceded the election, and Hernández have both denied the accusations.

Castro’s Libre party was founded in the wake of protests in 2009 after the military ousted and exiled her husband, Manuel Zelaya, who was an ally of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Her supporters have dismissed suggestions she wants to set up a hard-left administration.

Honduras has the highest poverty rate in Central America, according to the World Bank, and one of the highest homicide rates in the world. That has resulted in mass emigration, mostly to the US.

During this fiscal year, almost 320,000 Hondurans had contact with US law enforcement at the southern border, equivalent to more than 3 per cent of the country’s population.

The campaign and run-up to Sunday’s vote had been tense, with memories still fresh of the disputed 2017 election, which prompted widespread allegations of fraud and protests that were violently repressed by security forces. At least 29 people were killed in election-related violence this year.

The US government urged Honduran candidates and parties to encourage peace and patience from their supporters.

“We urge patience and calm as the National Electoral Council carries out its role in counting the vote,” a US state department spokesperson said on Monday.

Castro’s proposed policies include a greater role for the government in the economy, and legalising abortion in cases of rape, risk to the mother’s life and foetal malformations.

As analysts worry about weakening institutions and democratic backsliding across Central America, she has also vowed to bring in the UN to help with the anti-corruption fight. On Sunday, however, she stressed she did not have enemies and wanted dialogue with her opponents.

“We’re going to form a government of reconciliation, a government of peace and a government of justice,” she said. “I’ll call for a dialogue . . . with all sectors.”

Honduras is one of just 15 countries that recognises Taiwan, although Castro has signalled that she wants to establish ties with China. Her team says a final decision has not been made.

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