The Organization of American States has called for fresh elections in Honduras, hours after President Juan Orlando Hernández was declared the winner.
Luis Almagro – the secretary general of the OAS, a regional forum that sent an election observer mission to monitor the Honduran poll – said the process was plagued by irregularities, had “very low technical quality” and lacked integrity.
The statement came after the electoral court president, David Matamoros, revealed the winner on Sunday, saying: “We have fulfilled our obligation [and] we wish for there to be peace in our country.” It follows three weeks of uncertainty and unrest following the 26 November poll. At least 17 people have died in protests amid opposition allegations of election fraud.
Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla is in Washington DC and is meeting the US State Department, the OAS and non-governmental organisations to present what he called “numerous” pieces of evidence of alleged fraud.
According to the court’s official count, Hernández won with 42.95% to 41.42% for runner-up Nasralla who had challenged the result well before the announcement and said he would not recognise it.
There was no immediate public comment by Hernández, whose sister Hilda Hernández, a cabinet minister, died on Saturday in a helicopter crash.
Interviewed by UneTV during a layover at Miami airport, Nasralla said Hernández’s re-election was not legitimate. “The declaration by the court is a mockery because it tramples the will of the people,” Nasralla said. He added that “the people do not endorse fraud”.
An EU election observer mission has noted issues with the Honduran system that could have favoured Hernández, including disparity of resources and media time, selling of party credentials at voting tables to ensure greater presence of his National party and social programmes that “blurred the line between government and ruling party”. The mission noted that several of these problems were covered in its 2013 report, and that no changes had been made for these elections.
Almagro said via Twitter shortly before Matamoros’s announcement that election observers had concluded that “serious doubts persist about the results”. He asked that no “irresponsible pronouncements” be made before observers could deliver their definitive reports.
After the 26 November poll, the first results reported by the electoral court before dawn the next day showed Nasralla with a significant lead over Hernández with nearly 60% of the vote counted.
Public updates of the count then mysteriously stopped for more than a day and, when they resumed, Nasralla’s lead was steadily eroded and ultimately reversed in Hernández’s favour.
The electoral court recently conducted a recount of ballot boxes with irregularities and said there was virtually no change to its count. Since then, it has been considering challenges filed by candidates.
Despite widespread suspicions of electoral wrongdoing, Matamoros defended the court’s performance. He said it had presided over “the most transparent electoral process ever seen in Honduras”.
Hernández, a 49-year-old businessman and former lawmaker, took office in January 2014 and built support largely on a reduction in violence in the impoverished Central American country.
According to Honduras’s National Autonomous University, the nation’s homicide rate has fallen from 91.6 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 to 59 per 100,000 — though it remains among the deadliest places in the world.
Corruption and drug trafficking allegations have cast a shadow over his government, and his re-election bid fuelled charges that his National party was seeking to entrench itself in power by getting a court ruling to allow him to seek a second term.
Re-election has long been outlawed in the country, and in 2009 the then-president, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted in a coup ostensibly because he wanted to run again.
Zelaya, who founded the Alliance party that Nasralla was representing, was critical of the president on Sunday.
“The people say: ‘You are not our president’,” Zelaya tweeted. “We must mobilise immediately to all public places. They are violating the will of the PEOPLE.”
Hernández’s government recently accused Zelaya and Nasralla of ordering “gangs” to block streets and commit violent acts amid the protests, during which barricades have been burned and clashes taken place between rock-throwing demonstrators and police, with soldiers responding with teargas.
“The generalised crisis that Honduras is experiencing is primarily due to the disagreement there has been between the political parties which, in a democracy, must respect the majority will of the people expressed at the ballot box,” the national human rights commissioner, Roberto Herrera, said in a statement.
Zelaya has called for protests on Monday, and the Liberal party has called for protests on Tuesday, after conceding to Nasralla.
Rodolfo Pastor, an Alliance spokesman, told the Guardian: “We will continue to fight against this fraudulent election process.”