Election tribunal tries to drum up support for Sunday vote

Those who say that all politics are strictly local could be talking about Costa Rica. The nation goes to the voting booths Sunday to pick leaders in 81 cantons. There are 43 different political parties represented. Many are local.

The most watched race is that in the central canton of San José where long-time Mayor Johnny Araya is facing two former legislative deputies and other challengers.

The Tribunal Supreme de Elecciones has been working hard to get a good turnout. Luis Antonio Sobrado González, the president of the fourth power of the Costa Rican government, noted in a speech announcing the elections that municipalities do more than pick up the garbage and issue patentes or business licenses. Ultimately the success of each municipality rests in the hands of the mayor, vice mayors and council members, he noted.

Sobrado’s speech notwithstanding, turnout probably will not be higher than the 25 percent that marked municipal elections in 2002 and 2004.

As is traditional, large gatherings in competition with elections are prohibited. That includes soccer matches. The tribunal has said it thinks other gatherings may impede persons who want to go to the a voting center.

One event that was affected is the annual Teletón put on by the Club Activo 20-30. The event will begin today and run through Saturday. The tribunal almost canceled the event, but the organizers made a special appeal. The telethon usually runs through Sunday.

The event, based in Heredia, has a goal of 500 million colons or about $1 million to benefit the Hospital Nacional de Niños.
This is the last year that the municipal elections will take place in the same year as the national elections. A new election code puts the next voting half way though the presidential term.

Those elected Sunday will take office Feb. 7, and municipal leaders will serve for five years.

This is the first time that political parties will be getting public money for the campaign. That is usual in national campaigns and now has been extended to the local level.

This also is the first year that political parties had to balance their tickets so that they had gender parity.

The election tribunal expects to have the first results by 8 p.m. Sunday night.

The San José race pits Gloria Valerín Rodríguez of the Partido Acción Ciudadana against Araya, Also a strong candidate is Óscar López Arias of Accesibilidad sin Exclusion. He was the blind legislative deputy who nearly always is pictured with a white cane. Ms. Valerín was an outspoken legislator who left office four years ago but then obtained a spot on the legislative staff where her experience gave her great influence in drafting bills.

The Movimiento Libertario fielded Mario Alfaro Garcia to run as mayor. The Partido Integración Nacional is running Luis Arturo Polinaris Vargas. Each mayoral candidate has at least one running mate for vice mayor.

Although serving politicians are supposed to remain neutral during elections, former ones are not, and former president Oscar Arias Sánchez is making television appeals on behalf of his Partio Liberación Nacional, whose candidates include Araya. Basically Arias is promoting his party’s candidates as the most experienced.

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