Tens of thousands protest in Honduras, demanding president’s removal after contentious election

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:32am

Tens of thousands took to the streets across Honduras on Sunday, demanding a new president and an end to a week-long election debacle which has plunged the volatile country into its worst political crisis since a coup in 2009.

“Out with JOH” was the unifying chant, sung by protesters who accuse Juan Orlando Hernandez of meddling with the vote count in order to deny victory to the opposition Alliance leader, Salvador Nasralla.

The country’s beleaguered electoral commission (TSE) made a long-awaited announcement on how it plans to resolve the crisis just as the marches got underway.

After a week of delays, negotiations and accusations of bias and incompetence, the chief magistrate of the TSE, which is controlled by the ruling National Party, announced that the election winner would be declared after a recount of just 1,000 suspicious voting tallies.

The Alliance, which has a list of 11 demands it believes are necessary to ensure a fair and transparent vote count, slammed the decision as inadequate and said it would not attend the recount or accept the results. As the news spread, protesters grew louder, blowing horns and throwing firecrackers.

“The latest decision is one of a conglomerate of actions during the electoral process that we refuse to recognise … we won’t permit allow this to happen, just like we won’t allow another Hernandez government,” said Dina, 34, an anthropologist marching in Tegucigalpa.

Some protesters wanted fresh elections. “We need new elections so the people know who really won … the constitution doesn’t allow it but now maybe the constitution doesn’t matter at all,” said Freddy, 26, an industrial engineering student.

In the capital, protesters were blocked from the presidential residence by soldiers. Demonstrators carrying white flowers to signify peace marched to the vote-counting centre (Infop) singing pro-Nasralla and anti-Hernandez songs.

Watched by rows of navy, army and police officers carrying riot shields, Nasralla climbed on to a truck to read to the crowd a letter that was delivered to the TSE, rejecting its latest decision.

From the country’s second city, San Pedro Sula, Jesuit human rights leader Ismael Moreno, known as Padre Melo, said the TSE decision could lead to mayhem.

“Unless there is a tally by tally count, any announcement by the TSE will not be credible,” he said. “If Juan Orlando Hernandez is declared the president-elect in these conditions, the situation will get out if control.”

Eight deaths have been linked to election unrest reported by local media. Scores more are feared to have been injured and detained.