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Costa Rica Waits for Surprising Election Results

The supposedly predictable Costa Rican elections bring up surprising results as the Candidate Otton Solis faces off with ex-president Oscar Arias for the presidential seat, less than half a point apart, defying every previous prediction and poll result.

After a so called dispirited and cold campaign, the candidates to the presidency of Costa Rica faced off in the place that counts: the ballot boxes. The polls previous to the election date on February 5th signaled a victory for ex-president Oscar Arias from the National Liberation Party, PLN. The supporters for Otton Solis and the Civic Action Party PAC, could only hope that lack of electoral majority for Arias, (established at 40% plus one in Costa Rica) would give them a chance to reach the second round.

Costa Rica has been under bipartisanship for years, and it is the first time that the two traditional political parties are not facing off in elections, but that a relative newcomer has come to take its place. Although the last poll before elections showed Arias going down in support and Solis rise, the 40% barrier was still dividing Arias and Solis, and many experts scoffed at the idea of a second round.

Nevertheless, political expert Alberto Cortés Ramos doubted the supposed poll results and pointed out in Informa-Ticothat not only was the second round likely, but that it was imminent. He cited the “silent vote” as a decisive factor: Costa Rican’s no longer trust the political system, and many will lie in polls about their vote, will adhere publicly to a party but will vote privately for another. In El Fusil de Chispas(The Musket), comments were bustling with activities as Costa Ricans exposed their opposing views on the poll results and gave an indication that the political environment was heating up and that spirits were rallying for the election. Even when not giving out their specific views, posters were urging others to just get out and vote, and to do so intelligently.

Some examples of bloggers expressing their political views and inclinations in the last few days:

Dean Cornito in La Suiza Centroamericana(The Centralamerican Switzerland) expounds:

“I’m not who to tell you who to vote for; that is for each one to decide according to their conscience. But I will let myself give you this piece of advice: DON’T BREAK THE VOTE. If you believe in a candidate, vote for him and for his deputies, so that if he wins, you will give him the chance to govern comfortably. Breaking your vote is placing your bets on inaction, on four years of the same, on blockage. This country can’t take it anymore.”

Jaqui, said:

“In general, I wanted to express the world changes we are seeing today. Changes that make us recognize an impetuous and certainly moving world. Changes that can be exemplified in some points:

  • In Chile, a woman was elected for the first time: Michelle Bachelet
  • In Bolivia, Evo Morales, for the first time an indigenous won the presidency in this country.
  • A bit farther away, but in stride with these times of globalization, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first woman to accept the leadership of the State in the history of modern Africa, Liberia in this case.
  • The victory of Hamas over Al Fatah last week in the Palestine elections is known by all.

Thus, we recognize change. We can make change as well. We are citizens of this big town called Costa Rica, and today we decide a great part of our future. It is likely as well, that we experience a first here, whether it is 1. The first reelected president or 2. The first president who doesn’t belong to the traditional bipartisanship, the first president of the PAC. “

Prior to the elections, the website Elecciones2006cropped up: designed and placed online by a group of bloggers as an alternative to the mediocre media coverage of the electoral process. It has profiles for the different candidates, a comprehensive page that made it easy for voters to study government plans for the different parties and a online compendium of every tv spot and propaganda for every candidate. It is in this page that most of the Costa Rica blogosphere has turned to as their hub of communication and expression through this electoral process.

Throughout the different pages, interviews and poll analysis of Elecciones2006, comment threads have been growing into animated debates of different users defending their candidates and haranguing others to think deeply about the value of their vote. Costa Rica has direct elections, meaning that every single vote counts to the final result, independently of where in the country it is cast.

So February 5th finally arrived, and a new voting location came with it: it was the first time that the inhabitants of Cocos Island were able to cast their vote. This Island was made popular by the Jurassic Park movie, and is considered world patrimony thanks to the marine biodiversity. And yesterday, this new voting venue was open, for the 35 adult votes to cast their choice for the Costa Rican presidency.

Throughout the morning of Election Day, media reported lack of interest and a definite departure from the previous elections political fervor, where the Costa Ricans would throng the streets waving flags, tooting horns and wearing their party’s colors. Several bloggers reported through the Elecciones2006 main page of the voting turnout in Turrialba, Vargas Araya,Pavas, Naranjoand Heredia. A visitor to Costa Rica Jacqueline Passey commented in English about her perspective of the Costa Rica electoral processwith plenty of pictures.

Some thoughts of Costa Rican bloggers on the election process:

Emociones Elevadas: “Excited, I double checked my ballot in the middle of the discomfort of the women no the voting table (I wanted to make sure they were not previously marked as it had happened earlier in the morning according to the T.S.E. [Supreme Electoral Tribunal], and with a smile on my face y voted exactly in the center of the upper row.”

Anchas Alameda’s: “I stand behind the flimsy cardboard and other memories strike me. And I think, oh silly one, that I am truly excited to be able to vote. I think of the other countries who have exchanged their life or sanity just to have this right. In the Indians that voted for Evo. In the poor people that voted for Chavez. In the Urugayans in exile who voted twice for Tabare. In the survivors that chose Bachelet. In the brave ones that in uncomfortable, exhausting, dangerous, slow, questionable situations drop everything and go to vote. In the state of Florida an in an incredulous Al Gore. In the first time women voted. In the first time the black voted. In those that believed and were betrayed.

I placed my three X’s in a broken vote. May who the one chosen by the majority win. And may the rest learn to respect him.”

Jacintario:In spite of the notable apathy of the tico voter (apathy brought by the corruption charges in the highest levels of government well known by all), those friendly to a party have stuck flags on their houses or cars. In the last two days they’ve poured out on the streets with flags on their cars and honking. In the afternoon, walking on the schools was unbearable thanks to the honking. What was curious though, was to see family groups walking the streets with flags for 2 or 3 of the 14 participating parties, same with the cars. And now, during the night, while the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is about to give the first official results, the Central Avenue is thronged with vehicles and the sidewalks are full of people with flags for every political party and the flag of Costa Rica, all in perfect harmony, celebrating, calm, no burning tires or pillaged stores or aggression to each other. This last point has impressed me most. The waiting period before the results is a party (as exciting as when the National Soccer Selection wins a game). And seriously, no negative incidents have been exposed, at least so far.”

La Pulga Errante:I voted for the PAC. Finally, there behind the voting screen I meditated and told myself that I’d rather have change than continue with the same old thing. So I was one of those who were undecided to the last second.”

As the day came to a close, cars started flowing out onto the streets waving flags and banners, pounding on drums, honking and blowing whistles while they waited for the election results. The exit polls were disheartening for the PAC, signaling defeat by landslide from opponent Oscar Arias. The children’s elections also gave Arias victory: although those votes don’t count, they have been used in the past as an electoral thermometer. Anxiety was building, and Ticos waited for the first results to roll in.

The unthinkable came to pass. Arias and Solis faced off with less than 1 percent difference. Both with over 40% of the votes needed to eliminate the chance for a second round. As the hours went by, the gap between both candidates reduced itself to .35 percent. And it stayed there. The victory celebrations had to be cancelled or postponed. Costa Rican’s stuck to their television screens.

Itzpapalotl: “Channel 7 didn’t want to believe what it had to place on the screen, and it kept the incorrect results for a good while to maintain the sensation that their little game had turned out correctly. But it wasn’t so. We were obsessively checking on the Tribunal’s page, data by province and table percentage. We even had an in-house political expert giving us the respective analysis. Among all we made fantastical hypotheses: from a landslide victory to auto-exile to Coco’s Island (where PAC had majority). We oscillated for hours between optimism and defeat.”

And this morning we woke up and we still don’t know who our president will be. The information pages are down, probably due to high traffic. And in Elecciones2006 post for today, the comments keep growing and nails keep getting shorter. We still don’t know. There will possibly be a vigil outside the Supreme Electoral Tribunal today for transparency in the vote count. Rumors of recounts also flow. Some are whispering to each other about fraud, ballots being annulled and results being tampered with. All we have left is trust in the election process and in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

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