The country’s highest electoral body declared an official victory this week for the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).
After conducting a second vote count, the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) confirmed the results of the Oct. 7 referendum on the controversial free-trade pact. With nearly 60% turnout, some 51.6% of valid votes approved CAFTA, while 48.4% opposed the treaty.
During the past two weeks, the three main Tribunal magistrates worked with six supplement magistrates to count each of the nearly 1.6 million votes by hand. The treaty will become law after the Legislative Assembly issues a formal decree and the official government daily La Gaceta publishes it.
A visibly worn Luis Antonio Sobrado, president of the Tribunal, cheered Costa Ricans this week for turning out in high numbers to vote peacefully on a complicated issue.
“The gold medal for this process goes to the people,” he said.
Tribunal officials analyzed and rejected 155 complaints by Costa Ricans that challenged the referendum’s integrity. Most of the complaints questioned Tribunal officials at some voting booths who recorded the preliminary vote count on just one sheet, not the two sheets provided to them.
About 30 economic justice and labor rights organizations from around the world wrote a letter to the Organization of American States (OAS) this week challenging the referendum’s results. The biggest problem with the process, the groups said, was that pro-CAFTA leaders violated a Tribunal rule by campaigning during the two days before the referendum.
The letter emphasized a statement by U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration published the day before the referendum stating that the United States would not renegotiate CAFTA if Costa Rica rejected the treaty.
Casa Presidencial shared the statement with reporters, who circulated the story. Sobrado said this is not a violation of electoral rules, and that people are confusing propaganda with press coverage. Of course, he added, leaders were still allowed to speak to reporters during referendum weekend.
“The sectors try to have a broad presence in the mass media,” Sobrado said. “But it’s you (journalists) who go looking for them.”
Beginning in January, elections officials will work with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) to study the country’s first experience with a referendum.
After soliciting input from community and political leaders, as well as internal electoral officers, Tribunal officials will recommend legal changes to Congress to improve the next referendum process.