Honduran voters have given the ruling National Party four more years in the presidency, even though crime worsened and poverty and unemployment increased under outgoing President Porifirio Lobo.
Juan Orlando Hernandez, 45, the party's candidate who campaigned on a law-and-order platform, has won the hotly contested presidential race, electoral authorities said late Monday in declaring his lead "irreversible."
Even before the announcement, his main competitor, Xiomara Castro, had challenged the official returns and claimed victory for herself. Her husband, former President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a 2009 coup, said they wouldn't accept the results.
With about 68 percent of the votes counted from Sunday's election, Hernandez had 34 percent to 29 percent for Castro in an eight-candidate field.
Honduras, home to 8.5 million people, has the world's highest homicide rate and has been a focal point for U.S. drug enforcement efforts as the transit point for much of the South American cocaine heading to the U.S.
More than half the country lives in poverty, and the number working for less than the minimum wage of $350 a month has grown from 28 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today.
Hernandez, 45, promised in his campaign to do "whatever I have to" in fighting crime in a country where much of the cities are controlled by gangs and the outlying remote areas are held by drug-runners.
As president of congress, Hernandez pushed through legislation creating a military police force to patrol the most difficult areas of the major cities instead of the National Police, a force penetrated by corruption and often accused of extrajudicial killings.
Hernandez, a lawyer and reserve army lieutenant who studied law at New York University, was first elected to congress in 1997 and became the body's president in 2010.
The Associated Press