At 2:30 p.m. on Election Day, second-place candidate Ottón Solís took a break from his last day on the campaign trail to tell reporters he didn’t believe in polls, and that the results later that night would vindicate his optimism.
“We don’t use polls,” said the Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate. “But rarely have we been wrong in our feelings about how the party is doing.”
Twelve hours and countless handshakes later, as exhausted newscasters went off the air without a result and front-runner Oscar Arias, of the National Liberation Party, prepared to replace his victory speech with “let’s wait and see,” Solís had been proven right.
In his signature straw hat, Solís, 51, who began the day with a family breakfast, mass and a vote in his hometown of Pérez Zeledón, in the Southern Zone, made his way through the outlying cities and suburbs that ring the capital throughout the afternoon, moving through polling stations surrounded by a ring of voters, kids and journalists.
On the crest of a hill in Alajuela, northwest of San José, two families waved PAC and Liberation flags side by side. In Heredia, north of the capital, a taxi crammed with voters sported the green of Liberation, the red and yellow of PAC, the red and white of the Libertarian Movement – and the purple of club soccer team Saprissa. During the wait for results later that night at party headquarters in the eastern suburb of San Pedro, two PAC teenagers ran up with an Oscar Arias sign and attempted to set it on fire, but two older party members were quick to swoop down and confiscate the poster, keeping the peace.
Along Solís’ route, scrawled messages on signs and buildings showed why he is the candidate of graffiti – messages proclaiming disgust for public officials accused of corruption, and against the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), mirrored the primary targets of Solís’ campaign.
At the PAC headquarters – a few block south of the main drag where Solís supporters (predominant in this university neighborhood) drove up and down honking horns and waving flags from Saturday night to the wee hours of Monday morning – the party faithful danced, screamed and wore the giant Ottón masks that have become ubiquitous at all his appearances. Unlike the Arias celebration at the Hotel Corobicí, Solís’ fans made their camp on a suburban street corner, where giant photographs of Solís and vice-presidential candidate Epsy Campbell framed a simple stage.
Official results, seeping in hour by hour over a loudspeaker, kept the tension building.
With 15.5% of stations reporting at 9:15 p.m., Arias had a 5.5% lead, but that was down to 0.7% by the time Solís, now attired in a suit, appeared with his wife, Shirley Sánchez, at 10 p.m. to thank his supporters and wish them patience. He appeared once more at 2:52 a.m. to reiterate his earlier message.
Most supporters had made their way home by then, realizing the results wouldn’t be known for hours, if not days.
Still, a handful mugged for the cameras.
“Se oye, se siente, Ottón Presidente,” they shouted. “You can hear it, you can feel it” –once again, that intangible, incalculable force the polls hadn’t anticipated.