Poverty, coup legacy in play as Honduras picks new president

Poverty, coup legacy in play as Honduras picks new president
A Honduran soldier counts boxes with ballots at a polling station in Tegucigalpa on November 23, 2013.

TEGUCIGALPA - Some 5.4 million Hondurans cast votes Sunday in a presidential vote with a new chance of breaking the century-old dominance of right-wing parties.

Four years after her husband was ousted in a coup, leftist Xiomara Castro, 54, is running neck-and-neck with ruling party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez, 45.

If she pulls off a win, Castro could also make history by becoming the first woman president of Honduras, one of the poorest nations in Latin America after Haiti, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

"We are going to win this, and get our country back," she said, rallying supporters in jeans and a green shirt hours before polling stations opened.

And shrugging off some critics' suggestions that she might be taking orders from her husband in this male-dominated nation, Castro said Manuel Zelaya would be her top adviser, not the president.

"Definitely, I am the one who makes the decisions," she told AFP at an event with Radio Globo.

Whoever wins will face the challenge of reducing violence after gangs have turned the Central American nation into the world's murder capital.

And the election could also bring a political sea change in the divided country.

Since 1902, Hernandez's National Party (PN) and the Liberal Party (PL) - both conservative - have traded the presidency with military dictators.

"The Honduran two-party system is now the oldest in Latin America," said sociologist Matias Funes. "There has never been such a real chance (of breaking it) until now." Zelaya was elected Honduran president as a PL candidate in 2005.

But when he showed signs of moving to the political left and tried to reform the constitution, the military abruptly deposed him with support from Congress and the Supreme Court in 2009.

The military ousted the democratically-elected president with no vocal or active opposition from the United States - a fact that deeply undermined US credibility across all of Latin America ever since.

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