Ruling party wins presidential vote in Honduras with vow to tame gangs

Hernandez victory ensures continuity of the right-wing economic policies of the outgoing president

Supporters of presidential candidate Xiomara Castro shout slogans during a protest in Tegucigalpa on Monday. Photograph: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters

Supporters of presidential candidate Xiomara Castro shout slogans during a protest in Tegucigalpa on Monday. Photograph: Jorge Cabrera/Reuters

 

The conservative ruling party candidate, Juan Hernandez, has won Sunday’s presidential election in Honduras after campaigning on a promise to tame rampant drug gang violence that has given the country the world’s highest murder rate.

Results showed the head of congress beating his left-wing challenger, Xiomara Castro, wife of ousted former leader Manuel Zelaya. His victory ensures continuity of the right-wing economic policies of outgoing president, Porfirio Lobo, who is barred by law from seeking a second term.

A Hernandez victory snuffs out Mr Zelaya’s immediate hopes for a comeback to the main stage after he was deposed in a 2009 coup, which plunged the Central American country into deep crisis.

Ms Castro has cried foul, denouncing fraud and refusing to accept the results, but the electoral authority said on Monday that Mr Hernandez (45) had an “irreversible” lead.

Mr Hernandez has repeatedly vowed to “do whatever it takes” to curb violence that has saddled Honduras with an annual murder rate of 85 per 100,000 inhabitants, at a time when public debt is growing and the economy is stumbling.


Militarised police force
In congress he rolled out a militarised police force to reclaim control of a nation of 8.5 million people where 20 are murdered every day.

Mr Hernandez now plans to beef up the force to battle the rampant drug cartel violence alongside the army. “It’s the outcome the investors and the business community want,” said Daniel Sachs, an analyst at consultancy Control Risks.

But Mr Sachs said there was unlikely to be a quick fix to violence, which has been bred by feuds between rival gangs seeking to move South American cocaine to the US. “Nothing is going to change until they go after the root causes – poverty, social inequality, an endless supply of arms, and the low tax take,” he added.

A roughly $200 million IMF credit deal expired in March 2012 after Mr Lobo’s government failed to meet consolidation targets.

Experts say the IMF was unwilling to throw good money after bad before a presidential election. Mr Hernandez says he disagrees with the IMF on various issues but hopes to cut a new credit deal within six months.–(Reuters)