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Ruling Party Candidate Claims Win in Honduras
By Caroline Brothers, Reuters, 2 December 1997
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - Ruling Liberal Party candidate and newspaper owner Carlos Flores is claiming victory in Honduras's presidential elections after early results showed him well ahead of his main rival.
Partial results from Honduras's National Election Tribunal showed Flores, the scion of a millionaire family, leading the National Party's Alba Nora Gunera with 53.29 percent against 42.34 percent, with 18.5 percent of the vote counted from Sunday's election.
Flores' supporters were already celebrating in the capital, dancing in the streets of Tegucigalpa with their red and white flags and honking the horns of their cars.
"This victory is more your and more Honduras's than ours," Flores told a news conference just before midnight. "Preliminary results show we have triumphed in 14 of the 18 provinces of the country."
Outgoing president Carlos Reina congratulated Flores on his triumph, saying the results were clearly in his favor.
Roughly 2.8 million people were eligible to vote in the elections, which were also for Congressional deputies and mayors. It was not immediately clear how many had turned out but officials said about 27 percent ignored repeated appeals to vote.
The early official results were in line with pre-election surveys and an exit poll forecasting victory for Flores, 47. He now faces the daunting task of hauling 80 percent of his 5.8 million countrymen out of the poverty trap.
The president of Congress, Flores is the U.S.-educated owner of Honduras's La Tribuna newspaper but refused to give a single interview during his entire campaign. Even aides have criticized his leadership style as aloof and autocratic.
This presidential election effectively came down to a contest between Flores and Gunera, 56, the widow of a former military dictator.
But many voters in the third poorest country in the Americas said they saw little to choose between the Liberal campaign and that of Gunera.
Neither candidate offered concrete solutions to the nation's deep-seated problems, and most voters had been expected to cast their vote in line with family traditions going back decades.
"It's always the same. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It doesn't matter who wins," said Martha Montoya, who said she set out to vote all the same.
A third of Hondurans cannot read or write, jobs are scarce, and the daily minimum wage will not even buy a Big Mac. Politicians spent an estimated $13.5 million on the campaign.
Nevertheless, Liberal supporters were out celebrating while tallying was still underway.
"We're celebrating the triumph of Carlos Flores, the new president of Honduras," said Oscar Alejandro Flores, 17, too young to vote but running the Liberals' red and white flag down Boulevard Morazan, the capital's main nightlife center.
Early official results showed the Liberal Party also ahead in the vote for Congress, winning 96,076 votes to 77,822 for the Nationals.
Cesar Castellanos, a popular figure nicknamed El Gordito (the Fat One), looked likely to scoop the influential post of mayor of the capital for the opposition National Party, however.
It was expected to be the fifth democratic transfer of power since the end of two decades of military rule in 1982.
Police kept peace in the streets, and some 8,000 soldiers, disenfranchised under Honduran law, were deployed to ferry electoral material to the nation's 9,042 polling booths.
Apart from a president, Hondurans voted for three vice presidents, 128 deputies, 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament, a regional unity forum and 297 mayors.