(Corrects paragraph 3 to show Asfura is Tegucigalpa's mayor, not its former mayor)
By Gustavo Palencia
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Hondurans will head to vote on Sunday in presidential, congressional, and local elections in which the National Party, beset by corruption scandals and accusations of drug trafficking, could lose power for the first time since 2010.
The country's historic relationship with Taiwan has also become an issue, with one candidate pledging to open relations with the People's Republic of China.
While there are 13 presidential candidates, the polls indicate the race is between Nasry Asfura, the National Party's mayor of Tegucigalpa, and former first lady Xiomara Castro of the left-wing Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) Party.
Here are some issues the winner will have to address:
Even during the worst moments of the coronavirus pandemic, corruption https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/honduras-crime-migration was the main concern for nearly 10 million Hondurans, according to a CID Gallup poll.
Castro has promised to institute a U.N. backed anti-corruption commission.
Since Juan Orlando Hernandez took office for his second consecutive term, following a disputed poll in 2017, the fight against corruption in Honduras has been weakened https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/honduras-corruption-prosecutor.
Hernandez's eight years in power have been mired by corruption allegations, which the president has denied. He is a target of a narcotics investigation in the United States, though he has denied any links to the drug trade.
Under Hernandez, the National Party-controlled Congress passed laws to make investigations of white-collar crime more difficult and ousted an Organization of American States (OAS) anti-corruption commission that was investigating Hernandez https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/honduras-corruption-prosecutor.
The United States, Honduras' primary trading partner, is considering giving more than $4 billion in aid to Honduras and other Central American countries and creating a task force https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/us-weighing-anti-corruption-task-force-central-america-envoy-2021-04-22 to help fight corruption in the region.
Violence and corruption have long hampered economic growth in Honduras. In 2020, GDP fell 9% after the country was pummeled by two hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Honduras has one of the highest rates of poverty in Latin America. In 2020, the number of Hondurans living below the poverty line likely went up to 55% and unemployment almost doubled, according to World Bank projections.
In the fiscal year ending September, Hondurans represented almost half of all apprehensions of Central American migrants at the U.S. southwest border, according to Customs and Border Patrol Protection (CBP) statistics.
Remittances from Hondurans in the United States represent 22% of Honduras' gross domestic product (GDP), one of the highest in the region.
Violent protests like the ones that occurred after the 2017 elections could push even more Hondurans to leave the country, said Tiziano Breda, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.
At the end of March, a U.S. federal judge gave a life sentence to Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, the president's brother, for drug trafficking and arms possession.
No charges were filed against the president himself, but the U.S. Department of Justice reiterated after the verdict that evidence in the trial showed he received drug money https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-honduras-drugs-president-idUSKBN1WY03R for electoral campaigns, including from Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The president has denied the allegations.
RELATIONS WITH CHINA AND TAIWAN
Castro made a campaign promise to open diplomatic relations with mainland China, and Hernandez made a surprise visit this month to Taiwan after Taipei showed concern.
Honduras is one of 15 countries, including several in Central America and the Caribbean, that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China views democratically-ruled Taiwan as one of its provinces. Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name, and that Beijing has no right to speak for it.
In its quest to isolate the island internationally, China has in recent years opened relations with Taiwan's historic allies Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, on the condition they break off ties with Taiwan. (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia and Diego Ore Written by Jake Kincaid; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and David Gregorio)
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