TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — The electoral court said Tuesday that the final vote count from Honduras' weekend presidential election should come Wednesday night, while criticism mounted that the process has been slow and lacking transparency and the upstart candidate leading in early returns levied charges of fraud.
The announcement came as more results suddenly resumed trickling out from the court after essentially grinding to a halt for more than a day, with opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla's lead over incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernandez narrowing with each update.
With over 69 percent of Sunday's votes counted by late Tuesday, Nasralla's margin over Hernandez was about 2.5 percentage points. That was down from 5 points when the first significant results were made public early Monday.
Nasralla alleged electoral malfeasance and called on his supporters to protest. "The results cannot be reversed except with tricks ... and in the streets we will show our strength," he said.
"Hernandez has perpetrated electoral fraud because he wants to stay in power, but he will not succeed," Nasralla added. "... Tomorrow the people will come to the capital to defend the vote."
Minutes earlier David Matamoros, president of the electoral court, or TSE for its initials in Spanish, called for patience from the candidates and said authorities expected to finish the count Wednesday.
"I would like to clarify to the Honduran people that the TSE does not modify results ... in any way. We have acted transparently," Matamoros said.
College student Julian Martinez expressed the frustration and growing suspicions of many Hondurans.
"We should know who the new president is by now," Martinez said, "and we don't because of the manipulation of the political operatives."
Earlier in the day a European Union electoral observation mission criticized the electoral court for its lack of communication about the results.
The team's preliminary report said the voting was generally peaceful and results were being processed in front of party representatives. But it also noted that while the court made five announcements of preliminary results following the 2013 election, so far it had made just one as of that time.
"It is urgent that the results be disclosed," said Marisa Matias, head of the EU mission. "The communication from authorities with their people must be more fluid."
Both sides have claimed victory.
"We continue to await the results that ratify the resounding triumph of the presidential elections," Hernandez tweeted Monday night. "This isn't over until it's over!!!"
Matamoros blamed the delay on the materials used in the vote, which were being transported by military trucks from 400 remote areas across the country.
The EU mission's report noted that the electoral court was not generally seen as neutral because new opposition parties had little or no representation.
It also said paid advertising in the run-up to the election heavily favored Hernandez and there was often confusion among voters about whether goods and services accessed through social programs were coming from the government or Hernandez's National Party.
U.S. Rep. Eliot L. Engel, a Democrat from New York, said he had been following the election closely and was very concerned by "a variety of troubling reports, including those on the lack of transparency" from the electoral court.
"I urge the (court) to demonstrate its willingness to uphold the principles and values enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter," Engel said in a statement.
Associated Press writers Christopher Sherman and Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.