The Honduran government on Monday rejected calls to repeat the Nov 26 presidential election after allegations of massive vote count fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS) and other observers.
In a series of tweets, Honduran government minister Ebal Diaz, accused the OAS of violating its mission and rejected the call for new elections. "What it proposes is illegal and unacceptable," he wrote.
He also attacked the credentials of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, saying he was a partisan of the leftwing Tupamaro movement in Uruguay, which spawned an urban guerilla group in the 1960s.
On Sunday President Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the winner of Honduras’ disputed election by the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal by a 1.5% margin, but hours later the OAS cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election and proposed a re-do of the vote.
So far, there has been no public comment by Hernández who is in mourning after his sister, Communications Minister Hilda Hernández, died Saturday in a helicopter crash. His twitter account refers only to condolences he has received since the accident.
The OAS, which had sent election observers to the country, issued a statement saying it was impossible to determine the outcome with enough certainty due to irregularities including “deliberate human intrusions into the computer system, intentional elimination of digital traces,” opened ballot boxes and “extreme statistical improbability."
“The only possible path for the winner to be the Honduran people is a new call for general elections. ... Respecting democratic values and citizens is the necessary road to safeguard society from death and violence,” the OAS said.
Supporters of opposition challenger Salvador Nasralla blocked streets and highways around the country Monday with burning tires and rocks. Universities, banks and some other businesses remained closed due to the disturbances in Tegucigalpa and most businesses were also closed in the country’s second city, San Pedro Sula.
At least 17 people have died in violent street clashes since the Nov. 26 vote.
What happens next is unclear. "The situation is extremely volatile, it's changing minute by minute," said one Latin American diplomat. So far only only one Latin American president, Juan Manuel Santos, of Colombia, has recognized Hernández.
Hablé esta mañana con el presidente @JuanOrlandoH de Honduras. Le expresé mis condolencias por la muerte de su hermana y lo felicité por su triunfo electoral ratificado por el TSE. Seguiremos trabajando para fortalecer la relación bilateral— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) December 18, 2017
The OAS rejection of the official result was a stunning shock, especially coming from an organization that has historically shied away from criticizing elections in the region, with rare exceptions.
However, it was unclear how the Trump administration will react. The State Department has yet to comment on Sunday's announcement by the Electoral Tribunal announcement. Hernández is a key U.S. ally in the region on strategic issues such as security and immigration. The U.S. has also remained mostly silent during the election crisis, besides appealing for electoral transparency and calm on the streets.
Nasralla was in Washington Monday meeting with the OAS and the U.S. State Department. After meeting with Almagro, the Secretary General reiterated the need for new elections.
También le presenté a @SalvadorAlianza las conclusiones del Informe de Misión Electoral #OEAenHonduras; y ratifiqué la necesidad de un llamado a nuevas elecciones, al diálogo, la reconciliación y a la no violencia #EleccionesHonduras2017 pic.twitter.com/LHRf7jopKp— Luis Almagro (@Almagro_OEA2015) December 18, 2017
Nasralla has refused to accept the results and called for peaceful protests. "It's clear there was fraud," he said in a short Facebook video. "The president of the republic at this moment is an imposter, and the Honduran people know it," he added.
Electoral tribunal president David Matamoros announced Sunday evening that Hernández had won the election, saying it was “the most transparent electoral process ever seen in Honduras.”
According to the official count, Hernández won by slightly more than 50,000 votes, (42.95% to 41.42%).
The election controversy stems from a bizarre vote-count which initially had Nasralla leading by 5% with 57% of the ballots tabulated, before a sudden halt due to an alleged computer malfunction. The count was suspended for a day and a half. When it restarted Hernández was mysteriously ahead.
Hernandez, a 49-year-old lawyer and former lawmaker, took office in January 2014 and is credited with reducing gang violence in the impoverished Central American country. That has earned his praise from U.S. officials for reducing migration of Hondurans fleeing to the United States to escape violence.
But his government has been tainted by corruption and drug trafficking allegations. He is also accused of plotting an illegal power grab by engineering a change in the constitution to allow re-election, long outlawed in Honduras.
Nasralla is a successful businessman and former Pepsi CEO in Honduras as well as being the country's best-known sportscaster. Married to a former beauty queen, he has never been elected to political office before.