A cheer burst out of the crowd of white-and-green-clad National Liberation Party (PLN) supporters as the first round of votes came in early Sunday night.
With 9 percent counted by the Supreme Elections Tribunal at 8:30 p.m., the ruling PLN candidate Johnny Araya had what seemed a commanding lead at 36.24 percent, followed by Citizen Action Party candidate Luis Guillermo Solís, with 22.8 percent.
“I feel excellent, excellent. We’re winning and that’s what’s important,” said Jenia Ibarba, 29, waving a giant green-and-white striped PLN flag.
“There’s not going to be a second round, no way. Liberation’s going to win in the first,” she said.
But as the night wore on, the flags started to fall limp and the music got louder as organizers tried to buoy their supporters’ spirits as Araya’s lead fell and Solís’ rose.
The dancing at the Crown Plaza Corobicí Hotel continued, but PLN supporters started keeping their eyes on the results projected on the three large screens against the ballroom’s back wall.
When Araya’s campaign chief Antonio Álvarez Desanti came out just before 10 p.m., the evening hit its nadir. Desanti formally recognized Araya would face a runoff.
“As they say in aviation, today we’re having a stopover in February to land definitively in April,” he said.
While the crowd cheered, tears started to fall down some supporters’ cheeks even as they danced, their candidate suddenly faced with a difficult opponent in the coming months on the night that was supposed to cement the PLN in office for a historic third term.
Solís had risen to 28.4 percent to Araya’s 31.2 percent. By the end of the night, Solís would reach 30.77 percent to Araya’s 29.68 percent, taking the lead he could never achieve in polls as a candidate.
Araya continued the air travel metaphor:
“Today’s outcome has not caused any turbulence in my heart or mind.”
Despite the former San José mayor’s sunny outlook, the coming months will not likely be a smooth ride.
In a Jan. 28 poll by Semanario Universidad, Solís easily beat Araya in a runoff election 46.8 percent to 29.4 percent, respectively.
While Costa Rica’s electoral polling has proven less than stellar, Araya supporters seemed to agree.
“We have to be optimists but it’s difficult,” Ivania Álvarez, 44, told The Tico Times.
“He’s going to be strong, Luis Guillermo [Solís],” said Kenneth Villalobos, a 31-year-old PLN booster. “I think he has a lot of support from other parties like the Broad Front Party and the Libertarian Movement Party because they’re all going against the years National Liberation was in power. Eight years – it’s a lot. I think it’s going to be complicated for Liberation.”