Plead for a Gracious, Humble and Patient Victor

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

The polls on election day -- Sunday, November 24 -- in Honduras will open at 7 am and close at 4 pm. In cases where there are people still in line waiting to vote, the polls will remain open until 5 pm. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), which is responsible for administering the election, has mandated that no official preliminary election results can begin to be released until 6:45 pm, although it is widely expected that the media will begin to announce early results starting at around 6 pm. By law, the winner of the election cannot be officially declared until after 30 days, which means that, unless one of the four major presidential candidates manages to come out with a wide and clear margin of victory (extremely unlikely unless there is fraud), the vote count will likely be hotly contested throughout the month of December. So put aside any idea that Honduras will know the winner of the election on Sunday evening or Monday morning, or even after a week has passed. 

Note that of the 5,000 voting centers throughout Honduras, 500 of them are located in towns and villages that have no access to the Internet or even electricity, so the ballots cast there will not even commence to be counted until they are physically received in Tegucigalpa about a week later. All those hundreds of international observers who have booked airline flights to Honduras and made hotel reservations for afew days may wish to rethink their plans, because for them to do a competent and credible job they're going to need to stick around for at least a week, and probably two or three. This is certainly true if last year's primary elections are any indication. 

 

Voting in the primaries began on November 18, 2012. By the end of that day, Liberal Party pre-candidate Mauricio Villeda had approximately 248,000 votes to Yani Rosenthal's 202,000. National Party pre-candidate Juan Orlando Hernández had about 299,885 votes to Ricardo Álvarez's 271,554. But it wasn't until December 9, 2012 that the TSE officially announced the results of the elections. A full three weeks later. In the end, Mr. Hernández racked up a total of 446,230 votes, or 146,345 more than had been reported at the end of election day. Mr. Álvarez ended up with 380,809, or 109,255 more. Mr. Hernández won 45.42 percent of the Nationalist vote, compared to 38.76 percent for Mr. Álvarez. The Liberal Party's primary was not controversial, as Mr. Villeda won by a more comfortable margin of 51.97 percent to Mr. Rosenthal's 44.21 percent... and the fact that there was never any suspicion of fraud, as was the case in the Nationalist contest. There was no problem in the Libre Party's primary because its candidate, Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, faced no opponent.

 

In other words, if you use the primaries as a model, don't expect more than 70 percent of the total votes cast on Sunday to be tallied by the end of the day. While 70 percent of the vote count may be a good indicator of the eventual winner of a presidential election in Honduras or anywhere else, that will not be the case this year because the election features four major candidates (instead of the normal two) -- each with a good chance of winning. The election will be extremely close, and the winner is unlikely to receive more than 40 percent of the votes. The closeness of the election would make it irresponsible to declare a winner with only 70 percent or less of the votes counted. It would certainly be criminal to do so with anything less than 50 percent of the votes counted -- as happened in the 2005 presidential election in which Manuel Zelaya was declared the winner by Arístides Mejía, who was then the president of the TSE -- with only 3 percent of the votes counted. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Mejía went on to serve in key posts within the Zelaya administration and is currently among the upper crust of Libre's leadership.

 

Over the course of the next week, there will likely be claims of fraud and demands for recounts. That was certainly true during the Nationalist primary in which Mr. Álvarez remained adamant until the very end that he had been cheated by Mr. Hernández, who at the time held the powerful and influential position of president of the National Congress. There is a lot more at stake in the national election, which features widely divergent political philosophies, personal agendas, and personalities. So get ready for the coming firestorm. It's not going to be pretty. (11/23/13)

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Note: The author is the editor and cofounder of Honduras Weekly. He is an aerospace market analyst by profession. He was born in Tegucigalpa. He is the author of "The Good Coup: The Overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras".

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