Honduran president-elect's party hopes for narrow majority in Congress

FILE PHOTO: Xiomara Castro, presidential candidate of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), gestures as she gives a statement after the closing of the general election in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 28, 2021. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas/File Photo

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro and her party were awaiting results on Wednesday from tight legislative races to see if they would gain control of Congress, a day after her main rival conceded defeat in the presidential race.

Castro, a former first lady who will be the Central American nation's first female president, had built a commanding lead after Sunday's vote. The National Party's Nasry Asfura warmly congratulated her on the victory on Tuesday, even though results were incomplete. As of Wednesday morning, only 53% of the preliminary votes had been counted.

The Honduran election has played out against a backdrop of democratic backsliding in Central America, where governments from Managua to San Salvador have increasingly consolidated power while weakening the independence of state institutions.

With the right-wing National Party's 12-year hold on power set to end when Castro is inaugurated in January, attention on Wednesday shifted to the fate of the 128-member Congress.

The congressional balance of power is in the air, but preliminary results also appeared to point to the possibility of a simple majority for Castro's leftist Libre Party and its allies if the trend of the current vote tally holds.

That would ease passage of some of Castro's legislative priorities, but her pledge to convoke an assembly to rewrite the country's constitution could still be blocked since that would require a two-thirds majority.

Denis Gomez, a former electoral council member, estimated Libre would win 51 seats and saw its main ally, the party of Vice President-elect Salvador Nasralla, getting 14, giving the governing coalition a one-member majority.

But Gomez stressed this projected makeup of the unicameral legislature could still change if the trend in the count shifts.

"If that majority doesn't hold, they would have to negotiate," he said, most likely with the center-right Liberal Party, which after the National Party, is projected to form the third-largest bloc in the next Congress.

Political analyst Raul Pineda was less cautious about Castro's influence over incoming lawmakers.

"It's almost a certainty that Libre and Salvador's party will have a simple majority to reform or repeal laws," he said.

But Castro and her allies would need to peel off nearly 20 more votes, most likely from the Liberal Party, to reach a two-thirds majority for constitutional reforms, Pineda added.

The same super-majority would also be needed to elect new members of the Supreme Court and a new attorney general.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Paul Simao)

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