You would not believe the horn-blowing, flag-waving, chanting, excitement in Costa Rica! The air is thick with it. Today, Sunday, 7 Feb 2010, Costa Ricans are electing a new president, as well as a bunch of diputados (representatives) from all seven cantons.
Costa Rica takes its elections very seriously and is as encouraging as possible, actually helpful, so that every citizen gets to vote (unlike some other countries who shall remain nameless). For instance:
- Citizens are required to vote, although no one is fined or jailed if they don't show up. So let's say, "strongly encouraged."
- Children have their own voting centers and their votes are reported as important news. It is part of their education from the first grade.
- Registration centers are open Sunday, TODAY, voting day, for students who turn 18 today and have made it known they want to vote THIS election. Yes, you can register on election day.
- Voting day is Sunday, when most everyone has the day free. Pretty sensible for a third world country, eh?
- There are seven people running for President from seven political parties. What a concept. You can belong to any party and have a place on the ballot. Wow. Let that settle in. I have no clue how one goes about inventing a political party, but if you have a plan to reform Costa Rica, pick a name and go for it: National Liberation Party, Social Christian Unity Party, Costa Rica Renovation Party, Libertarian Movement Party (go, Otto), Accessibility without Exclusion Party, Citizen Action Party, and the Broad Front Party. [It looks like there are two other candidates: Araya and Muñoz. I can't find any info on them, but they are showing up in the count. Hmmm.]
- Candidates can't run TV ads today, but the news channels are running biographies of each candidate. I notice in the "unbiased" reporting footage that Laura's green and white flags dominate… but I'm going to overlook that.
- Inmates are encouraged to vote and have their own urnas (voting stations). Women in the El Buen Pastor women's facility were interviewed; some had never voted before!
- Patients in Hospitals were voting as well.
- They had a station set up in a casa de ancianos [old folks home] for the residents. A reporter asked an attendant which candidate had gotten the most votes. The attendant answered that she wasn't about to count votes until 6:00 when the voting was officially over. Harrumph!
- The oldest voter in Costa Rica today is 109 years old.
Here's how it works, according to another friend: the polls close at 6PM, at which time the table attendants will count the votes and relay their count to the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE). The TSE will publish results as they come in after 7PM and you can watch the tally on its website. TV and radio will be broadcasting as well. I found live coverage on Teletica, the local TV station. (I have to watch online since my TV has been commandeered by my teens and a friend, drinking beer and watching the Superbowl. Where did I go wrong?) The winner* should be known around midnight.
*To win, a candidate must receive at least 40% of the vote. If no one gets at least 40% of the vote, there will be a run-off election in April between the top two. Laura Chinchilla, Arias' former V.P., is the favorite. But my guy, Otto Guevara, the Libertarian candidate, has been coming on strong and many believe there will be a run off… in which case many believe Otto will win.
Here's a taste of my guy, start at minute 7:45, continue to part 5:
Costa Rica's citizens are keenly interested in the outcome, not ambivalent
or the least bit jaded. As a friend in
Alajuela said, "Stands are set up along the road for the political
parties. Adults and kids waving flags. People everywhere are excited.
It's a great day to be in CR." Indeed it is. If Otto wins – and I know it's a long shot – it will be a very interesting time to be
in Costa Rica! Not only livin' la pura vida, but with a Libertarian president. Yummy.
UPDATE 8:45pm and no yummy likely, short of a miracle. With 11.3% of the votes in so far, Laura has 48.7% of those votes. Otton Solis (who almost beat Arias in 2006) has 22.5% and Otto only has 21.3%. [Pause for effect.] Oh, what the heck, I believe in miracles.
UPDATE 8:50pm… More bad news: the Saints beat the Colts. Sister Jean led me astray. I wouldn't ordinarily care, but I bet Hal $1,000,000 that the Colts would win. And I generously gave him 5 points. I'm definitely going to need that miracle.
UPDATE 10:45pm It's pretty much all over but the fat lady's song and hearing that will just annoy the life out of me. The roar of the celebration fireworks from Laura's platform at Sabana Park all the way down in San José is deafening. I'm going to bed. Feh!
UPDATE 6am The Morning After: Here's the final score with 94.6% of the votes in (elections are decided based on a straight popular vote here). Laura won with 46.8%, Otton came in second with 25.2% and Otto third with 20.8%. Socialismo, here we come!
I shouldn't be surprised. Costa Rica has taken care of its citizens for so long, the term personal liberty has no meaning here. They feel free (as do we) and, really, life is good. I'm going to try to keep an open mind.