Student Viewpoint

Honduras National Elections | An Analysis with Dr. Irfan Nooruddin

Honduras’ National Elections: An Analysis with Dr. Irfan Nooruddin

On January 31st, the Center for Latin American Studies hosted an event to discuss the alleged manipulation of the November 2017 Honduran Presidential election. Dr. Nooruddin, contracted by the Organization of the American States, was tasked with conducting electoral forensics of the available electoral data within a span of 48 hours, with the hopes of analyzing the legitimacy of the election. 

The Role of the United States 

In his initial breakdown of the Honduran election, Dr. Nooruddin acknowledged the differing responses of the United States, the European Union, and the Organization for American States. The U.S. and EU chose to take the easy route, accepting President Fernandez’s victory. The OAS, however, declared the election to be illegitimate. After determining that the election was fraudulent, the United States was frowned upon for their decision to allow a potentially undemocratic practice to occur. Dr. Nooruddin hypothesized that this decision may have been a direct result of the United States’ desire to maintain good diplomatic relations with the Honduran President. I was surprised by this decision, however. As a U.S. citizen, I expect the government to uphold the values of democracy. When it is called into question in another country, I would anticipate that the United States would advocate for the democratic process. By avoiding this more difficult decision, I again felt the harsh reality of politics; the U.S. had decided to protect their own interests over the democratic principles upon which it is founded.

Photo of Dr. Irfan Nooruddin at CLAS event in Georgetown

“Civil society within these countries, no matter how strong they are, can be undermined”. 

The Data

As Dr. Nooruddin’s presentation proceeded, he displayed a series of graphs. In his initial graphs, he says the data showed that the sudden shift observed in the vote distribution is not impossible or even imporbable. He went through a series of scenarios not implying foul play that, according to the data as shown, could have led to the sudden reversal of fortunes. But then Dr. Nooruddin said he started looking more closely at the data: particularly at the time stamps of the thousands of data points from polling stations across Honduras he had obtained from the OAS. Based on this new focus, but still using the same data set he had used for the earlier slides, he created a series of new graphs. He first showed us a graph that covered the overall time period of the actual vote count, including the hours following the alleged computer glitch during which votes were counted manually before being uploaded to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) database. The next slide honed in on the distribution of results as they were up until 4:30am, the time of the computer glitch. With the introduction of the following graph, my jaw dropped. The data distribution in the graph spiked sharply in support of the incumbent where, before, it had shown a clear trend in favor of the opposition. Such a spike, Dr. Nooruddin explained, is highly irregular. Although Dr. Nooruddin’s analysis was incredible, the results leave me feeling concerned. With the results of the election, it seems apparent that the future of democracy may be at risk in Latin America. With many presidential elections coming down the pipeline in the region, however, our only choice is to sit and wait.

Photo of Dr. Irfan Nooruddin at Georgetown University
“The real trouble for democracies now happens between elections”.

 

Written by Miranda Carnes, International Politics Major (SFS'19)