Our headline may seem to juxtapose three unrelated things. But we think they have to be seen together. And actually, there's one more thing... and it's a doozy.
To recap where the process stands: the TSE resumed counting vote tallies without representatives of the other parties. At the end, it says its count shows the incumbent president with a lead of around 55,000 votes. According to the TSE, the next step is for the parties to register challenges and petitions, within 10 days, and then within 20 days the TSE will certify an outcome to the election.
(In reporting this story, the Voice of America slipped up, describing Juan Orlando Hernández as "U.S.-backed"; the US doesn't normally take sides in a foreign election.)
No one who has watched the situation unfold can be completely satisfied that the vote count has been transparent or without problems. Unexplained prolonged delays in posting numbers, computer crashes that received different explanations at different times, and above all, the weird behavior of the numbers before and after the more than day-long delay, have Hondurans and international observers alike worried.
The OAS actually went so far in its preliminary report to conclude that "the tight margin of the results, and the irregularities, errors and
systemic problems that have surrounded this election do not allow the
Mission to have certainty about the results".
In the body of the report, the OAS expresses concerns about the vote counting process, noting some ballot boxes arrived open, missing documents, or without security. They also write that after initially counting ballots as they arrived, at some point the TSE "altered the order" to use "criteria that were not explained". So the vote counting switched from non-selective, to selective-- but we don't know what criteria were used to select votes to count.
The OAS concluded that the only route out would be for the main candidates to negotiate an agreement to review the 1000+ poll tallies that were scrutinized for inconsistencies, as well as recount the 5000+ tallies counted after the initial phase of vote counting, when the trend changed, as well as do a complete recount of three departments (Lempira, La Paz, and Intibuca), rural states that had exaggeratedly high reported voter turnout. That is a complete endorsement of the position of the Alianza.
Independently, The Economist, which previously published an article about a tape they received apparently showing training of National Party operatives in ways to cheat, undertook a statistical analysis that gives support to Alianza complaints that the change in voting trends after the break in counting is statistically improbable.
And that brings us to today's amazing development: the police across Honduras, including the US supported militarized policing units, standing down and returning to their bases, refusing to follow the orders they received to stop protests. Under the state of exception declared by Juan Orlando Hernández, free circulation in the country was limited, a night time curfew was declared, and the armed forces and police were directed to remove protesters. What followed was violence, including deadly violence.
Announcing their stand-down, the national police spokesman said "“We want peace, and we will not follow government orders – we’re tired of this".
When a sitting president who has concentrated power loses the ability to command the police, it is a signal of loss of control over the forces necessary to maintain dominance. Even if the TSE were to declare him the winner, it is not clear how governable Honduras would be for a president who took advantage of a somewhat ambiguous court ruling to seek a deeply unpopular second term in office.
After the 2013 election, when Hernández received only 37% of the vote, the three parties that split the majority of the presidential votes did not cooperate as a concerted opposition. This time around, two of those parties entered an alliance and ran an agreed on presidential candidate. This time, the Liberal Party candidate who trailed in the polls has been vocal in saying his review of the poll tallies says the Alianza won, and has supported their calls for a recount, even a full 100% recount if needed.
And here's the extra bit: according to a Honduran lawyer, whose twitter profile says she is a Liberal Party member, election law actually demands a recount of some votes already.
This isn't because of the uncertainties about counting the poll tallies that are already being debated.
It's because the margin between candidates is less than the number of null votes. Null votes are those marked as invalid at the polling place, and thus not included in the totals on the poll tallies from which the central electoral authorities work.
The law appears to require reviewing the null votes from the original ballots, if there are more of them than the margin between candidates. With around 55,000 votes officially between the two candidates, the number of votes marked null at the polling places is 135,000.
The TSE is unlikely to do any of this. Unfortunately, we doubt Hernández will risk the victory he went so far to gain and agree to the kind of recount and scrutiny of the counting process that is being called for by the Alianza, the Liberal Party-- and the OAS.
Until the army stands down and returns to its barracks. Unlikely, yes. But stranger things seem to be happening...