With less than 50 percent of the total votes cast in yesterday's presidential election in Honduras counted, Juan Orlando Hernández, at about about 9:30 last night (Honduras time), delivered a tidy little victory speech in Tegucigalpa. He thanked his supporters, his mother and God, and he repeated the phrase, "¡Sí se pudo!" (Yes, we could!). He coyly mentioned that he had received calls of congratulations from President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama and President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and former President of El Salvador Antonio Saca, and he called for reconciliation, offering to dialogue with all of the [losing] presidential candidates. Mr. Hernández appeared ecstatic and basking in glory in his triumph last night. One problem: This election isn't over yet... not by a long shot. All you have to do is read the headlines in the international press to get a sense of how premature may be Mr. Hernández' effusive grandstanding and self-proclamation.
From the Miami Herald: "Turmoil as 2 candidates in Honduras claim election victory". From NBC News: "Confusion in Honduras as both presidential candidates claim victory". From BBC News: "Honduras election: Hernandez and Castro both claim win". From The Wall Street Journal: "Both Sides Claim Win in Honduran Vote". From Deutsche Welle: "Honduras' Hernandez takes election lead as rival also claims victory". From The New York Times: "Close Vote Raises Tensions in Honduras". From Al Jazeera America: "Rival presidential candidates claim victory in Honduras vote". From The Washington Post: "After Honduras vote, competing presidential candidates claiming victory". The Financial Times: "Rival contenders for Honduras presidency claim poll victory". Voice of America: "Two Candidates Declare Victory in Honduras Presidential Election".
Hmm, something is amiss. Of course, if you were tracking last night's election returns closely, you would already know this. You would know that both Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (Libre) also declared herself the winner, and that Libre director Eduardo Enrique Reina said that "there are serious inconsistencies [in the vote count] of more than 20 percent", while another Libre representative, Rixi Moncada, emphasized that "there is clear fraud and fraud before the popular will". Both Mr. Reina and Mrs. Moncada pointed out that there are more than 1,900 voting boxes -- each containing somewhere between 200-300 ballots -- that have not gone through the normal process of accountability. Last night, Mrs. Moncada said, "Today, we have witnessed the irregular transmission of the results, which presented inconsistencies. Up to this moment, there are more than 1,900 voting boxes that have been sent through a process of special scrutiny."
Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) has also said he does not accept the voting results as released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). He stressed that the results given by the TSE from 25 percent of the voting boxes do not match the results counted by the political parties. ""I want the popular will to be reflected, and if this means that another candidate is the winner then I would accept the results. But at this moment I cannot accept it," said Mr. Nasralla.
If both of these individuals are unwilling to accept Mr. Hernández as the victor, then you have to wonder what's next.
According to the TSE, with just over 50 percent of the 3,233,000 votes cast counted, Mrs. Zelaya is running second to Mr. Hernández with 28.67 percent, while Mr. Nasralla is in fourth place with 15.47 percent. Together, Mrs. Zelaya and Mr. Nasralla account for about 44 percent of the votes counted thus far. That's a lot of unhappy people. Neither Mrs. Zelaya nor Mr. Nasralla (and their supporters) are inclined to passively accept a self-proclamation by Mr. Hernández, who is not particularly liked or trusted by either Mrs. Zelaya or Mr. Nasralla. By law, the TSE cannot officially declare a winner until 30 days after the election. So there's a lot of time to express displeasure, particularly by Libre activists who are used to taking it to the streets. Mr. Nasralla also has a unique flare for stirring things up.
The accusation of fraud is now in the air, and Mr. Hernández, rather than waiting for a much higher percentage of the vote count to be tallied and any alleged irregularities to be fully addressed, has chosen to throw fuel onto a simmering fire by claiming victory a little too early. He could have also been gracious and waited until his opponents conceded defeat, rather than beating his chest and pretending to be humble about it all. It's called good sportsmanship. Decorum. That would have gone a lot farther toward the reconciliation that he professes to want. Instead, what Mr. Hernández has is a fight on his hands over the next month, not to mention the next four years (assuming he ends up as President) -- because no matter how the evolving controversy is dealt with, it will never be put to rest by Libre and PAC followers. Rightly or wrongly, the accusation that he stole the election will hound Mr. Hernández, making it much more difficult for him to govern a country that was already going to be huge challenge from the outset.