U.S. Backs Re-election of Honduran President Despite Allegations of Fraud

FILE PHOTO: Honduras President and National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez gestures as he addresses the media at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera/File Photo

The United States on Friday backed the re-election of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a U.S. ally, who was certified the winner in last month’s presidential contest in Honduras despite allegations of fraud by the opposition.

The Honduran electoral tribunal at the weekend declared Hernandez the winner of the Nov. 26 election in spite of widespread misgivings about the count, which turned in favor of the incumbent after suddenly halting with the opposition ahead.

Violent protests have broken out in Honduras over the vote, and the Organization of American States (OAS) urged the country to hold new elections to resolve the dispute. That proposal has, however, been rejected by senior Honduran officials.

“We congratulate President Juan Orlando Hernandez on his victory in the November 26 presidential elections, as declared by the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement, adding Honduras should pursue a “long-term effort to heal the political divide in the country and enact much-needed electoral reforms.”

Nauert called for all sides to refrain from violence, for those who wish to challenge the result to use legal means to do so and for the government to ensure that security services respect the rights of peaceful protesters and are held accountable for any violations.

She also called for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) “to transparently and fully review any challenges filed by political parties.”

Hernandez, a conservative, has led a military crackdown against gangs in the Central American country, and Honduras’ murder rate has slid since he took power in 2014.

His opponent, the center-left television host Salvador Nasralla, had appeared headed for an upset win when election results started rolling out. The results were abruptly halted and when they restarted, the outcome favored Hernandez. The electoral tribunal later said that Hernandez had won the vote.

Nasralla traveled to Washington this week to urge the United States not to recognize the vote, but a senior State Department official said on Wednesday the government had not seen any evidence that would alter the vote’s outcome.

“The close election results, irregularities identified by the OAS and the (European Union) election observation missions, and strong reactions from Hondurans across the political spectrum underscore the need for a robust national dialogue,” Nauert said in her statement.

SOURCE: Reuters, Susan Heavey and Makini Brice