It started raining lightly in Tegucigalpa last night shortly after the delayed close of the nation's polling places. The voting centers, called "urnas" were originally scheduled to close at 4pm, but the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) extended the deadline due to a huge turnout. At least 70 percent of the nation's 5.4 million voters cast ballots.
The rain was not enough to wash away concerns of fraud in an atmosphere of suspicion fueled by memories of the 2009 military coup which ousted sitting President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya. Later that year, a flawed election seated current President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo of the National Party.
By Sunday night, both sides -- Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party (and wife of Zelaya) and Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party -- had declared victory.
At a polling place in a wealthy neighborhood in Tegucigalpa, I spoke with Marco Gutierrez, who told me he was "like a Republican in the U.S."
"This election is like the end of an era," said Gutierrez. "People want to close the chapter of Mel Zelaya."
An estimated 750 international observers representing groups as wide-ranging as the Carter Center, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the UN Development Program were on hand to document the process. Several groups plan to hold initial press conferences today and tomorrow, but final reports will take longer to prepare.
One of those monitors is Dr. Juan Almendares, a Honduran physician and human rights activist. He told me: "We have been questioning the militarization of the elections. We have been protesting against that because we believe it is not necessary to have military in the election process. Before the election, the military police was built up -- they usually use masks, and they don't wear identification, and this creates a situation of impunity. This militarization threatens the voters because the military was responsible for the coup in 2009 and human rights violations, so people do not have good memories of them."
Our team of reporters saw many small instances of concern throughout the city of Tegucigalpa -- a woman whose dead brother was listed as a voter, and another woman who was listed as dead asked the TSE if they could "bring her back to life" so she could vote. There were also more standard issues such as party literature too close to the entrance of a voting area. But stories we heard various election monitors in other regions were of much greater concern.
Members of the international observer teams were harassed by immigration officials, about 50 party activists were held hostage in a hotel in El Paraíso when they tried to go to their polling stations. And many cases of identity fraud, and even the selling of election credentials.
Zelaya is holding a press conference at 11 am. But the confusion about the results will most likely continue throughout the day.
Photo: Flickr user Nicolas Raymond, creative commons licensed.