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Honduras President and National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez celebrates with supporters as he cites exit polls to declare himself winner in the presidential election in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido(reuters_tickers)
By Gabriel Stargardter and Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, a centre-right U.S. ally, cited multiple exit polls on Sunday to declare himself victorious in a bid for a second term in the Central American nation, despite the opposition saying it was winning.
A poll released by network Televicentro, generally considered a reliable indicator of results, gave President Juan Orlando Hernandez 43.93 percent of the vote, with Salvador Nasralla, who leads a broad left-right coalition called the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship, at 34.70 percent.
"The count is more than clear and resounding that we won this election, that is what the polls say and that is what the results we are seeing from the count are saying," Hernandez told supporters at a Tegucigalpa hotel.
Blue-clad Hernandez supporters danced and blew horns, while his wife, Ana Garcia de Hernandez, led a prayer.
The election tribunal was not due to release even partial official results until later in the evening.
A candidate does not need a majority of votes to win.
The opposition alliance said early numbers gave it a strong lead but added it would only accept physically counted ballots that tendencies could still change.
"We are winning," Nasralla told a more subdued group of supporters, while also floating the possibility the results would be less favourable later in the night.
Hernandez bid for a second term has angered other parties, not least because eight years ago, while a lawmaker, he supported a coup that removed an earlier president after he proposed a referendum on re-election.
FIGHT AGAINST GANGS
Hernandez, 49, is popular, however, for lowering a sky-high murder rate, accelerating economic growth and cutting the deficit since he took office in 2014 in one of the Americas' poorest, most violent countries.
He was allowed to run for another term thanks to a 2015 Supreme Court decision that overturned a constitutional ban on re-election.
Critics warn that Hernandez, a staunch U.S. ally on fighting drug gangs and migration, is tightening his grip on power, and used a pliant Supreme Court and electoral tribunal to clear a path for his re-election bid.
Born into a rural family of 17 siblings, Hernandez promises to use a second term to strengthen his militarised assault on gangs, to build roads and bridges with public and private money to lure foreign investment, create 600,000 jobs and help lift economic growth to above 6 percent.
In the capital, Tegucigalpa, many were thankful for a lower crime rate and seem willing to overlook Hernandez's consolidation of power.
"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't," said Ada Solorzano, a 57-year-old nurse said of Hernandez. "During his time in office, he's fought the gangs and the drug traffickers and he's improved the employment situation. We know he will continue the war on crime and that he plans to create more work."
Another Tegucigalpa resident, Klenia Corea, 26, said she, her family and friends were all voting for Nasralla, citing a lack of jobs for young people and the president's grip on law enforcement.
"He's got all the police," said Corea's mother, Yadira Salgado, 61. "He's got it all tied up."
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Peter Cooney)