Honduras opposition parties ask for disputed election to be annulled

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduras’ two main opposition parties on Friday presented formal requests to annul the results of the still-unresolved presidential election, deepening a political crisis that has roiled the poor, violent Central American nation.

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The Nov. 26 vote has been marred by accusations of electoral fraud, sparking protests, a widespread curfew and a growing chorus of international concern over the situation in Honduras, which has one of the world’s highest murder rates.

Opposition leader Salvador Nasralla, who trails conservative President Juan Orlando Hernandez by 1.6 percentage points according to the widely criticized official count, arrived at the election tribunal shortly before the midnight deadline to present his center-left coalition’s request.

“We’re asking for the result to be declared null at the presidential level, due to the scandalous fraud we have discovered,” Nasralla said.

Earlier, Octavio Pineda, the secretary of the third-placed Liberal Party, presented a similar document, saying the vote should be annulled due to a violation of constitutional norms.

“There have been violations since the president of the republic was allowed to participate in the electoral process when the constitution prohibited it,” Pineda said.

The Liberal Party’s candidate, Luis Zelaya, has repeatedly said Nasralla won the election.

Hernandez’s bid for a second term, which was made possible by a 2015 Supreme Court decision on term limits, divided opinion in the coffee-exporting nation of 9 million people.

The election has been plagued with problems since voting stations closed.

The tribunal declared Nasralla the leader in an announcement on the morning after the vote, with just over half of the ballot boxes counted. However, it gave no further updates for about 36 hours. Once results then started flowing again, Nasralla’s lead quickly started narrowing, sparking a major outcry.

On Thursday, tribunal chief David Matamoros said there would be a re-count of 4,753 ballot boxes that arrived after the 36-hour pause, and which the opposition has claimed are tainted.

The OAS, which on Wednesday said it may call for new elections if “irregularities” undermine the credibility of results, had previously called for a recount of those 4,753 ballot boxes.

Marlon Ochoa, Nasralla’s campaign manager, reiterated that the coalition wants a full recount of the complete 18,000-odd ballot boxes. On Wednesday, Nasralla said he no longer recognized the Honduran tribunal because of its role in the process.

The tribunal has 10 days to respond to the requests.

Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Nick Macfie