By 2 o’clock on Monday morning, the day after national elections were held in Honduras, two Presidential candidates had declared victory. One was the heavily favored incumbent, Juan Orlando Hernández. The other was Salvador Nasralla, a former sportscaster and political neophyte who spoke, as one journalist put it, with “the cadence of the game-show host he once was.” The results were partial but striking: with fifty-seven per cent of the vote tallied, Nasralla had a five-point lead. Blindsided but undeterred, Hernández assembled a small group of anxious supporters in Tegucigalpa, the capital, to insist that he was winning. But, as he spoke, the chief magistrate of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal—the four-person body that certifies the results—who had remained curiously silent for hours after the voting ended, announced numbers that contradicted the President. The chief magistrate added, however, that it was too early to call the election. (The Electoral Tribunal is aligned with Hernández’s party, the Partido Nacional, which controlled the vote counts at individual polling places, per an election law that party members had recently modified in Congress.)
Then, on Tuesday, the third candidate in the race, who had finished last, threw his weight behind Nasralla, saying that the results were clear. That morning, I called Nasralla’s campaign director, a Georgetown-educated political strategist named Rodolfo Pastor, to ask him what he thought was happening. He told me, “Hernández has control over the Electoral Tribunal. The moment is no longer electoral; it’s political.” A few hours later, the tribunal provided an update: there were 2.4 million ballots that still needed to be counted. The chief magistrate alluded to a technical problem, but didn’t elaborate. The military was bringing the ballots in question to the capital in trucks. “It is hoped that they arrive in the next few hours,” he said. If all went according to plan, the results would be announced on Thursday.
That explanation made little sense, according to Ramón Jáuregui, an election observer from Spain, who was in Honduras as part of a European delegation to monitor the vote. “The tribunal’s delay in providing definitive results of the Presidential race is a huge source of concern,” he said in a statement. “There is no technical reason that explains the delay, because the tallies from all eighteen thousand polling places were transmitted electronically to the Electoral Tribunal on the day of the election.” Hernández, in the meantime, has been claiming that the outstanding ballots, which are from remote areas across the country, are overwhelmingly for him. “The rural vote has given us the win,” he told the local press. Hondurans were getting nervous. “We are facing a momentous crisis because Juan Orlando does not want to accept defeat,” Hugo Noé Pino, a prominent economist, told the news outlet El Faro. “In no other election have we faced a situation like the one we’re facing now.”