Saturday, 5 December 2009

Election officials revise down participation rate

TEGUCIGALPA (AFP) - – Election officials in Honduras on Friday revised down the participation rate in controversial weekend elections from more than 60 percent to 49 percent.

Conservative Porfirio Lobo claimed a solid victory in Sunday's polls for a successor to ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

De facto leaders hoped the elections would turn a page on the June 28 coup.

The United States and European Union recognized the polls as a first step forward out of the five-month crisis, but the vote split the Americas, with Brazil leading claims that they would whitewash the coup.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) posted figures of 49 percent participation after two thirds of votes were counted, down from 62 percent given initially on Sunday.

The tribunal has 30 days to give final results for the general elections in which 4.6 million Hondurans were eligible to vote.

The impoverished Central American nation remains in limbo, with a de facto leader -- Roberto Micheletti -- in charge, while Zelaya is holed up in the Brazilian embassy, where he has been under threat of arrest since returning in September.

The 128-member Congress voted by 111-14 on Wednesday against bringing Zelaya back to the presidency until his term runs out on January 27, despite pressure from the international community to make a gesture against the coup.

The Latin American Parliament, a regional group, sanctioned the Honduran Congress by voting to suspend it on Friday, lawmakers said after a meeting in Panama.

Zelaya supporters -- who confronted a heavy-handed military crackdown while attempting to protest the coup -- agreed late Thursday to give up their campaign to demand his reinstatement, but said they would still fight for his plan to change the constitution.

The military packed left-leaning Zelaya on a plane to Costa Rica with the blessing of Congress, the Supreme Court and business leaders over his plans to alter the constitution, which they saw as a bid to remove the current one-term limit for presidents.

Zelaya now appears left with the options of negotiating his release with Lobo, seeking exile or remaining in the embassy.

Zelaya beat Lobo by a small margin in 2005 elections, in which participation was 55 percent.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which suspended Honduras after the coup but has been divided over the crisis, was meeting on Friday to consider a response to the elections.