TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Fears that a new bitterly contested presidential election would plunge Honduras back into chaos and violence eased on Tuesday night as the ruling party admitted defeat to the opposition candidate.
With that, it appeared that Honduras would not only be heading for a peaceful transition, but would also have its first female president, the leftist Xiomara Castro.
Nasry Asfura, the ruling National Party’s presidential candidate, said in a statement that he personally congratulated Ms. Castro during a meeting with her and her family.
“Now I want to say it publicly: that I congratulate her on her victory,” said Mr Asfura, the conservative mayor of Tegucigalpa. “And as President-elect, I hope God enlightens and guides her so that her government does the best for the good of all of us Hondurans, to achieve development and the desire for democracy.”
According to the National Electoral Council, Ms Castro had 53 percent of the vote and Mr Asfura 34 percent, with 52 percent of the votes counted. The council has 30 days from the election to select a winner.
Even before the concession, Castro supporters had celebrated.
Thousands of Hondurans took to the streets the day after Sunday’s vote to cheer what they believed to be Ms Castro’s insurmountable lead, setting off fireworks and chanting “JOH, JOH, and there you go,” a reference to the highly unpopular outgoing president. Juan Orlando Hernandez.
The result seemed like a stunning repudiation of the National Party’s 12-year rule, which has been shaped by ubiquitous corruption, dismantling of democratic institutions and allegations of ties to drug cartels.
Many expressed the hope that Mrs. Castro, 62, would be able to cure the chronic diseases that have left the country mired in poverty and despair for decades – widespread corruption, violence, organized crime and mass migration.
In a sense, Mrs. Castro represents a break with traditional Honduran politics. Its leadership lead, in what were largely peaceful elections, also seemed to provide a democratic reprieve from a wave of authoritarianism that swept through Central America.
But Ms. Castro is also closely associated with the Honduran political establishment. Her husband is Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ex-president who was ousted in a coup in 2009.
And Ms. Castro’s ability to deliver on campaign promises is likely to be severely tested by opposition from the more conservative sectors in Congress and within her own political coalition.