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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 13:30 GMT
Q&A: Honduras votes
Honduras army soldier guards ballot boxes
Security is tight for the vote

Voters in Honduras are going to the polls on 27 November to elect a president, a vice-president and 128 members of the single-chamber National Congress.

The two front-runners in the presidential race have made similar campaign pledges to combat crime and poverty, and opinion polls put them neck-and-neck.

The vote comes as many Hondurans are recovering from the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Gamma, which hit the country on 19 November.

What is the background?

These are the seventh elections since 1981, when President Roberto Suazo Cordova was elected to head the first civilian government in more than a century.

But it was not until the 1990s that a process of "demilitarisation" began, which saw many officers charged with human rights abuses.

Ricardo Maduro of the National Party of Honduras (PNH) won the last presidential contest in November 2001.

His central campaign pledge was to tackle violent crime. Like many Hondurans, he spoke from bitter experience after the death of his son in a botched kidnapping in 1997.

But his decision to bring the troops out on to the streets to support the police has met with a mixed reception.

Who are the presidential candidates?

There are five people standing, but only two appear to have a realistic chance of winning: Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa and Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya Rosales.

They are backed by the country's two main parties, both of which are on the centre-right.

Mr Lobo is standing for the National Party of Honduras (PNH), which has won the presidency twice (in 1989 and 2001).

Mr Zelaya is the candidate of the Liberal Party of Honduras (PLH), which has won 4 times (in 1981, 1985, 1993 and 1997).

The other three candidates are: Juan Almendarez Bonilla (Democratic Union); Carlos Sosa Coello (Innovation and Unity Party); and Juan Ramon Martinez (Christian Democratic Party of Honduras).

The same five parties stood in the elections last time. In the legislature, the PNH won 61 seats (nearly 48%), the PLH 55 seats (nearly 43%) and the other parties 12 seats (9%).

What is the system?

Presidents are limited to one four-year term, but deputies may seek re-election.

The National Congress has 128 members, elected by proportional representation. There is no upper house.

What are the main issues?

Mr Lobo is campaigning on a law-and-order platform, stressing his plans to get tough on organised crime and gangs. His running-mate is Mario Canahuati, who has been ambassador to the US for the past three years.

Mr Lobo's slogan is "jobs and security" and he has promised to reinstate the death penalty for murderers, terrorists, kidnappers, drug-traffickers and rapists. He also proposes that convicts will have to work to earn their food.

Mr Zelaya is campaigning on a platform of openness and what he calls "participative democracy".

He has proposed setting up mechanisms for the public disclosure of government spending and investment, and plans to transfer development rights and obligations to local communities. He also wants to cut bureaucracy, make government more responsive and build an open economy.

His running mate is Elvin Ernesto Santos, a civil engineer who was the president of the Honduran Construction Industry Chamber.

Both main candidates say they will fight poverty. Unemployment, poor housing and malnutrition are widespread in Honduras.

What will happen on election day?

About four million people will be eligible to vote, out of a population of seven million. There will be around 600,000 first-time voters.

Some 5,000 polling stations will be set up throughout the country's 18 departments. The polls are open from 0600 to 1600 local (1200 GMT to 2200 GMT).

Hondurans living abroad may vote and about 11,500 have registered to do so in the US.

The new president will be sworn in on 27 January 2006.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaus abroad.

Country profile: Honduras
29 Mar 01 |  Country profiles
Honduras ends election campaign
22 Nov 05 |  Americas

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