TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The two top presidential candidates continued to claim victory Monday in a hotly contested presidential race, as Hondurans awaited final results and only small protest crowds gathered in the streets.
With about 60 percent of the vote tallied, Juan Orlando Hernandez of the governing National Party had just over 34 percent of the votes, giving him the edge over Xiomara Castro, who had almost 29 percent. Castro's husband Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a 2009 coup that has left the country politically unstable.
Castro hadn't appeared by mid-day Monday. But Zelaya said their party would not accept the results.
"We will defend our triumph, and if it's necessary, we will do it in the streets," he said.
The rest of the world started to line up behind Hernandez as the winner, given his comfortable 5-point lead, sending congratulations. Even Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, an ally of Zelaya and staunch critic of the coup, congratulated Hernandez Monday as the newly elected president, according to his spokeswoman and wife, Rosario Murillo.
"If they have doubts about the process, go to the court and report them," Hernandez said of his opponents. "The process was transparent. We will present our transition team this afternoon."
Hernandez and Castro went into Sunday's election neck-and-neck in opinion polls, and expectations of a close finish raised fears that a disputed result would produce more instability and protests. Voting went off peacefully amid a heavy turnout, however, and the uncertainty of the final results plus a cold, rainy night kept the streets quiet.
The winner will likely have no more than a third of the vote and face a divided Congress, whose 128 members were also up for election. As a result, the political situation is unlikely to change in the failing state of 8.5 million people, which is home to the world's highest homicide rate and a transit point for much of the South American cocaine heading to the U.S.
Both of the two top candidates claimed victory, with Hernandez saying he would start Monday with the job of leading Hondurans out of the misery they've endured. Poverty and violence have climbed in the last four years under President Porfirio Lobo, also of the National Party.
Castro said her campaign's numbers gave her a victory by 3 points, then left her election-night party at a hotel and was not heard from the rest of the night.
Both U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske and Ulrike Lunacek, head of the European Union observer mission, said reports from the polls indicated the vote and subsequent count so far were regular.
"We had 110 observers in almost all Honduras states, and we have seen a transparent process with all parties represented at the table," Kubiske said, noting that there is a system in place for people to peacefully file complaints or contest the results.
Castro, 54, had led the race for months portraying herself as the candidate for change, promising relief from violence and poverty and constitutional reform that would make the country more equitable.
"From the data from our surveys and vote counts, I am the president of Honduras," she said early in the night. "The victory is overwhelming and irreversible."
Hernandez, 45, erased Castro's early lead in a field of eight candidates as he focused his campaign on a promise to bring law and order. As president of Congress, Hernandez pushed through legislation creating a military police force to patrol the streets in place of the National Police, which are penetrated by corruption and often accused of extrajudicial killings.
"Today the people voted to leave behind the political crisis of 2009 that left thousands in Honduras jobless, migrating and divided, that left us alone and isolated," Hernandez said.
Associated Press writers Freddy Cuevas contributed to this report in Tegucigalpa and Luis Manuel Galeano from Managua, Nicaragua.