Another week has passed without an official declaration regarding the winner of the presidential election held nearly one month ago. The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) spent the week sorting through the 696 complaints filed by political parties regarding the historically close Feb. 5 election and the subsequent ballot recount.
An official declaration of a winner can be expected next week, once all of the complaints have been resolved, Tribunal magistrate Luis Antonio Sobrado said this week.
In the meantime, the Tribunal late last week began the manual recount of legislator votes, while the contending presidential candidates met with party leaders to define their future agendas.
The Citizen Action Party (PAC) is responsible for 681 of 696 complaints (demandas de nulidad) filed. This is more than 30 times greater than the total number of complaints filed by all parties in the 2002 elections, when fewer than 20 complaints were made. These figures do not include complaints made to the Tribunal’s citizen hotline, which are also being addressed.
So far the claims have produced no results. Of the 537 demandas de nulidad resolved as of yesterday morning, all had been rejected, Sobrado said. Nothing has happened to reverse the unofficial victory of National Liberation Party candidate Oscar Arias. According to unofficial summations of precinct vote counts posted on the TSE Web site, National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Oscar Arias edged out PAC’s Ottón Solís by more than 18,000 votes (TT, Feb. 24).
The election is one of the closest in the Costa Rica’s history – with 1.1% of votes separating Arias (40.9%) and Solís (39.8%).
More than 500 of the complaints concern problems with or lack of the padron registro, an official list people must sign to vote. In addition, PAC has claimed that about 4,000 ballots are missing.
The Tribunal last week denied the ballots are “missing” and by yesterday morning, 1,947 had been located in sacks of ballots for legislators. Of these, 1889 were unused, 20 were null, seven were blank, and 31 were valid, including five for Arias, four for Solís and the rest for minor parties. In addition, as of Tuesday morning, 13 voter registry lists had been found.
Sobrado said he expects to find more of the unaccounted-for ballots and registry lists in these legislative sacks as the legislative count continues.
Since starting Feb. 24, the legislative count has been moving faster than the presidential count, with TSE employees moving through about 400 voting stations a day. As of yesterday, no complaints had been filed regarding the legislative election despite the fact that observers from more parties – up to 11 at each of the five counting tables – are scrutinizing the process.
“I don’t expect, for the legislator election, to receive the downpour of complaints we received earlier. The rhythm is faster and the relation between the electoral functionaries and the party observers is much more cordial,” Sobrado said.
One election complaint that hasn’t been addressed was made by Patriotic Union party legislator José Miguel Corrales, who questions the process by which volunteers were convoked to work at election stations after political parties didn’t provide enough poll workers.
Corrales has called for the annulment of the voting stations where more than 2,000 volunteers worked – including famed U.S.- Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang (TT, Feb. 10) – saying the Tribunal did not follow the proper notification channels to look for volunteers, the wire service ACAN-EFE reported.
Waiting it Out
While awaiting the Tribunal’s official declaration, Arias and Solís this week continued meeting with leaders of their parties.
During a PAC weekend retreat in San Gerardo de Dota in the Southern Zone, Solís and the 18 new PAC legislators-elect selected Elizabeth Fonseca as head of the PAC legislative fraction and Alberto Salom as vice-head.
During a meeting last weekend, Liberation party leaders determined a top priority will be improving the country’s infrastructure, including highways and ports.
At the beginning of the week, Arias received visits from various international and local leaders, including Erich Stather, German Vice-Minister of Cooperation and Development; Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of the Toyota Motor Corporation and former Union for Change presidential candidate Antonio Alvarez Desanti, just back from Florida.
Arias said that after the TSE’s official declaration, he will begin dialogue with the current government, social sector, business leaders and unions, and Solís.
While some uncertainty remains, the election and subsequent change of government have helped Costa Ricans to feel more optimistic about the economic future of the country.
In the University of Costa Rica’s latest consumer confidence study, 69% of those polled said their incomes will be greater in 2006 than in 2005. This is seven points higher than a similar poll in November.
Similarly, 43% of Costa Ricans said unemployment will be greater in 2006, down from 58% in November. The poll of 705 people was taken Feb. 8-15.