Exit polls: Lobo leads Honduras election


Opposition candidate Porfirio Lobo took a clear early lead in a Honduran presidential election on Sunday that is putting the United States at odds with leftist governments in Latin America.

The election could calm a five-month crisis which the Central America country has suffered since the army overthrew leftist Zelaya in June and flew him into exile.

But while Washington looks likely to recognize Sunday’s vote, leftist rulers of Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela and other Latin American countries say the election is invalid because it was backed by the coup leaders and could end any hope of Zelaya returning to power.

The division puts in danger U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to turn a new page with Latin America where memories of military coups supported by the United States during the Cold War are still fresh.

An exit poll by HRN radio station showed the conservative Lobo with more than 55 percent of Sunday’s vote, well ahead of main rival Elvin Santos of the ruling Liberal Party. Two other exit polls by media also had Lobo, a rich landowner, with a big lead.

Lobo is seen as more able than Santos to lead Honduras out of political gridlock and diplomatic isolation.

Neither ousted Zelaya nor arch-rival Roberto Micheletti, installed as interim president by Congress after Zelaya’s overthrow, took part in the race.

The post-coup crisis has crippled the coffee-producing nation for months and cut it off from international funds.

“This election is an important step to consolidate a government that can bring us together,” Lobo, from the National Party, said after voting.

BOYCOTT ATTEMPT

Zelaya, camped out in the Brazilian embassy since September when he slipped back into Honduras from exile, rejected the election and told his supporters to boycott it.

Soldiers grabbed the leftist from his home on June 28 and threw him out of the country, sparking Central America’s biggest political crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Zelaya had upset Congress and the Supreme Court by forging an alliance with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and hinting that the wanted to change the constitution to allow presidential re-election.

The U.S. State Department says Sunday’s election is “a democratic way forward for the Honduran people” after talks to bring Zelaya back collapsed. But Washington has not clearly spelled out whether it will recognize the election winner.

Major Latin American countries like Brazil, the region’s economic powerhouse, plus Argentina and Venezuela have rejected the election, even though it was scheduled before the coup.

Lobo, a wealthy conservative landowner, says that if he wins, he will ask foreign leaders like Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to back him.

He will also seek a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund after foreign donors slashed aid to impoverished Honduras after the coup.

The Organization of American States and the United Nations refused to send observers to the election.

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