Nasry Asfura, the ruling party candidate in the Honduras election, has conceded to his opposition rival, Xiomara Castro, who will become the country’s first female president and the country’s first left-wing leader in 12 years.
Calling Castro “president elect”, National Party contender Nasry Asfura said he visited his opponent at her family home to offer his congratulations for winning Sunday’s vote.
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“Now I want to say publicly, I congratulate her on her victory,” Asfura said in a video broadcast on local television, alongside photos of the two rivals hugging and smiling.
Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a coup in 2009, built a commanding lead in the vote count that began after the polls closed on Sunday.
With more than 52 percent of votes counted by Tuesday evening, Castro had 53.4 percent support, compared with 34.1 percent for Asfura.
Voter turnout was at its highest since the country returned to democratic rule in the 1980s, after a campaign where Castro seized on the unpopularity of incumbent Juan Hernandez who has been implicated in drug trafficking charges in the United States.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Castro on her “historic victory” and said Washington was ready to work with the incoming government.
“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,” Blinken said in a statement.
“The United States will continue to support Honduras in strengthening its democratic institutions, promoting economic growth, and fighting corruption and transnational crime.”
Castro has promised big changes, including a constitutional overhaul, seeking United Nations support in the fight against corruption, and loosening abortion restrictions.
She has also floated the idea of dropping diplomatic support for Taiwan in favour of China, a policy proposal keenly watched in Washington, Beijing and Taipei.
Analysts said the discussion of such a change has been going on for some time.
“The US will certainly persuade Honduras to stay with Taiwan instead of China, given the TAIPEI Act and its Cold War-like competition with China,” said Yao-Yuan Yen, chair of the Department of International Studies & Modern Languages at the University of St. Thomas in the US. “So, it’s hard to conclude whether a diplomatic switch really will happen for Honduras.”
Castro will face plenty of challenges when she takes office in January with joblessness, crime, corruption and the threat of transnational drug gangs helping spur record numbers of people to migrate.
Sana Hashmi, visiting fellow at the Taiwan Exchange Foundation, a Taipei-based think tank, said that while the situation might be “precarious” for Taiwan, which has formal diplomatic relations with just 15 countries, it might not be calamitous.
“I don’t see it impacting Taiwan’s international standing,” Hashmi said about the possibility of a switch. “The pandemic phase has been a blessing in disguise for Taiwan in terms of making new friends and mending ties with some old partners. Taiwan has secured the support of several liberal democracies over the past two years.”
Castro managed a strong showing in Sunday’s election despite the European Union vote observer mission finding that the National Party had used state backing to boost its campaign.
The smooth transmission of early election results had aided transparency and confidence, the EU mission said. But it criticised pre-election political violence and “abuse of state resources,” such as a rise in handing out of welfare vouchers.
“The state media visibly favoured the ruling party and its presidential candidate,” said the mission’s head, Zeljana Zovko.
The National Party said that it will assume the role of “constructive opposition” and was willing to work with the incoming government.
With reporting by Erin Hale in Taipei