Exit Polls in Honduras Project Liberal Party Candidate Carlos Flores Facusse Will Likely Win Today's Presidential ElectionBy NIKO PRICE

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A 47-year-old newspaper owner, Carlos Flores Facusse, appeared to have won Sunday's presidential election here, defeating the widow of a former military president.

Horn-honking caravans of Flores' supporters paraded though the streets of this capital, waving the red-and-white flag of his Liberal Party to cheers from hundreds on the roadside.

With 84,034 votes counted _ a fairly small but still undetermined percentage of the total votes cast _ Flores had 39 percent to 28 percent for Nora Gunera de Melgar. Three other parties split the rest of the vote.

An exit poll broadcast by the national Televicentro network showed Flores with a 55-40 percent advantage in the capital, and a 60-35 percent lead in the country's second-largest city, San Pedro Sula.

Televicentro gave no margin of error.

The nation's largest radio network, HRM, said it's nationwide exit poll of 1,601 people showed Flores with 54 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Gunera de Melgar.

Both exit polls also indicated Flores' Liberal Party had a strong lead in congressional races.

When the new president starts a four-year term on Jan. 27, it will be the fifth consecutive transfer of power between civilians _ a feat in Central America, where coups and military dictatorships have been common.

Voter turnout appeared to be running at 75 percent at some polling sites, relatively low for Honduras. But the election brought hope to some voters.

Olayo Hernandez, 49, walked an hour down from the cloud-shrouded mountains to vote in San Juancito, a mining village of stone streets and lush greenery.

Hernandez said it was worth it if the new president could do something about the poverty that makes meat a rarity for his family of 11.

``For anyone who has a lot of family, it's tough,'' he said.

More jobs and better wages were on the minds of many voters in what is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Forty-five percent of Hondurans are unemployed or underemployed.

But neither of the two main presidential candidates made fighting poverty a priority in the campaign, choosing to focus instead of catchy songs and grandiose speeches.

In a way, it mattered little. Honduras' two main political parties _ the Liberals and the Nationals _ have alternated in power since 1906, and many families hand down party affiliation from generation to generation.

``I am Catholic because of my family's traditions. And I am Liberal because of my family traditions,'' said Ricardo Blanco, 40, a land assessor emerging from a voting booth in the town of Santa Lucia.

``Everyone has their preference. It's like Coke and Pepsi.''

In Santa Lucia, a village of farmers and artisans just east of the capital of Tegucigalpa, both parties handed out slips of paper to party members who voted, entitling them to free meals of eggs and plantains. No law bans the tradition.

In all, 2.9 million Hondurans were registered to vote in Sunday's election for president, 128 members of the one-house Congress and 297 mayors _ all the elected officials in Honduras.

Honduras emerged from military rule in 1981, and the military's role in the nation has been shrinking steadily. While soldiers still oversaw polling stations with automatic rifles Sunday, the police force shifted from military to civilian control a month ago, and few fear another coup.

Facusse, a 47-year-old engineer who owns a newspaper, is president of Congress and is married to an American. Gunera de Melgar, 56, is former mayor of Tegucigalpa. Three smaller parties also competed.

The current president, Roberto Reina, won office on a campaign of anti-corruption and enjoyed modest success in punishing corrupt officials during his term. He said Saturday he had initiated a ``moral revolution'' that is irreversible.

``I am leaving this country with an honorable legacy,'' he said. ``Today people see soldiers outside a polling station and they are not afraid. They are confident that they are protected.''