Honduras will have its first woman president in little more than a week on Sunday with popular comedian Xiomara Castro poised to become president after a brutal war of succession sparked by the death of longtime leader Manuel Zelaya.
Castro won the votes of about 48 percent of voters in an initial count released Thursday, up from 33 percent in the election held nearly eight months ago. Castro was leading with 68 percent support in the north-central state of Colon and the town of La Ceiba, and distant second place candidate Salvador Nasralla had just 23 percent, election officials said.
“This win is unexpected. It was a result you could never have predicted,” Castro said of her margin of victory on Radio Fusion, owned by her cousin, German Castro.
The vote remained in suspense after two opposition candidates had come out as the winners in early official vote counts, sparking violent clashes and criticism of the ruling National Party’s internal violence tactics.
Castro, who was denied the vice presidency in the primaries when her opponents insisted her presence would weaken the presidency, will take over from outgoing President Porfirio Lobo of the National Party.
Castro, whose real name is Aristide Chacón, rose to fame by mocking political figures with government posts in her much-watched, Saturday Night Live-style, humor sketches. She says she is not running a traditional campaign, but has been plastering the capital city with posters featuring her charisma.
Nasralla, who finished first in the primary with 36 percent of the vote, has been protesting his loss by hurling rocks at government buildings and other centers of state power, prompting police to shoot his supporters, resulting in at least six deaths. He has accused the ruling party of attempting to rig the election.
The army was called in to restore order and national police fired tear gas to disperse crowd after crowd around a hospital where protesters had gathered.
Lobo has led the country with a largely conservative government since it was hit by the worst outbreak of leftist gangs — Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha — in decades, setting off an infamous spate of massacres. Poverty levels in the country are the highest in the Western Hemisphere and turnout is often low.
The vote is also being watched closely in a Latin America increasingly gripped by the influence of left-leaning President Raul Castro of Cuba, Castro’s brother and successor. The Cuban government sent 100 military personnel to Honduras, helping train soldiers and helping the military, which has a 40 percent participation rate, to move into a new operation center at an army base.