With confetti, marching bands and crowds at every turn, the daylight hours of Election Day seemed natural fodder to feed the pride of presidential candidate Oscar Arias, who was already confident of victory early Sunday morning.
During his visit to Escuela Moya in Heredia, north of San José, the National Liberation Party candidate was greeted by a marching band and a mob of supporters and press, who barely let him step out of his car. As he made his way through the crowd, confetti was thrown, women held out babies to be kissed and young and old pushed forward eagerly to get a handshake, hello, or simple head nod.
Children climbed fences in a desperate effort to get a glimpse of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former President (1986-1990). Even young people wearing T-shirts and colors of rival parties fought to sneak a peek.
Similar scenes followed Arias, 65, throughout his day visiting polling places and giving interviews. When the polls closed at 6 p.m., the support continued at the Liberation post-election party at a hall in the Hotel Corobicí, in San José.
Hundreds of supporters were greeted by green and white balloons spiraling up pillars, two stages – one for a live band and one for what was expected to be the future President –and two huge television screens. In high spirits, they danced to salsa and other pop rhythms and waved small Costa Rican flags.
By 8 p.m. the room was so packed with green-and-white T-shirts, dresses, baseball hats and ties that the room reached capacity and no one else was allowed to enter.
The first numbers revealed on the large screens were exit polls suggesting an Arias victory – 44.5% for their candidate and 37.3% for Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís. With the crowd cheering, the MC announced Liberation had won, words he uttered countless times throughout the evening until it finally became clear that it wasn’t going to be a victory party after all.
By 8:30 p.m., the thumping music was cut, and things took a turn for the serious.
Magistrates of the Supreme Elections Tribunal began to read aloud results from the first polling places and, far from the easy victory Arias supporters expected, Solís at times carried the lead.
For hours the party alternated between the sobering reality of the close results and the festive atmosphere. Arias supporters danced, stared nervously at the screens, chain smoked cigarettes in the hallway and waited for Arias to appear.
All the while, Liberation leaders did not address the crowd. A few legislative candidates milled about, expressing confidence of victory for Arias and satisfaction for their own triumph.
Finally, at 11:40 p.m., campaign chief Rodrigo Arias, brother of the candidate, emerged. He told the crowd he wasn’t sure when final results would be known, to which the crowd responded “We’ll stay!”
And many did. For three more hours the waiting game continued. Children curled up at their parents’ feet; exhausted reporters fell about the place, and hungry supporters packed the hotel bar to get a bite to eat.
Just after 2:30 a.m.,Arias came down from his suite and was greeted with the same enthusiasm he had been welcomed with all day. Though calm, the candidate appeared baffled at what had happened over the past six hours.
“We should recognize we didn’t expect results to be this tight. We all expected a more unified triumph,” he said.
But, in his typically confident way, the candidate compared himself to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy – who beat Richard Nixon by a thin margin – and assured victory.