Costa Rican citizens are heading to the polls Sunday to elect municipal leaders in elections that has many people watching with anticipation. So far, the vote has already affected thousands of Cuban migrants in the country, has seen a banned political leader re-enter politics, and is the first vote since the country's new election law was passed.
The polls officially opened across the country at 6 a.m. local time, in which citizens started to cast their ballots for 81 new mayors and six thousand locally elected officials.
The over 5,630 polling sites will be based in government mandated educational buildings, municipal halls, and churches, which has caused problems for thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in the country who were being temporarily sheltered in these buildings.
At least 8,000 Cubans have arrived in Costa Rica over the past months, trying to make their way up to the United States but became stranded in the country when Nicaragua and a number of other Central American countries closed their borders to the migrants. Due to the elections, they were recently displaced from their public shelters across Costa Rica and transported by bus to new ones, according to reports by the Diplomatic Courier.
This year's elections also saw the political comeback of Johnny Araya Monge, a former mayor of San Jose and presidential candidate for the 2014 elections. However, after he withdrew from the presidential elections prematurely, his party, the National Liberation Party (PLN), banned him from participating in any political activities with them for the next eight years.
Monge has since joined the Allinace for San Jose Party in order to participate in this year's elections, running once again for mayor of San Jose Centro.
However, of more importance to election monitors will be how many of Cosa Rica's 3.2 million registered voters, and 53,000 foreign nationals, will turn up to cast their ballots. This will be the first elections since the country changed its electoral laws, holding municipal elections mid-way through the presidential terms instead of the same year, in order to draw in more voters.
Elections for mayors in Costa Rica should be annual, because in the last three months have built more than in the previous three years.— Mariano Jiménez Z (@MarianoJimenezZ) February 6, 2016
It is believed that the change will draw in more excitement and political participation for municipal elections if they are not overshadowed by the money, prestige and advertising power of national races.
Past municipal elections have drawn in dismal turnouts, including only a 20 percent turnout in 2010, odd in a country that generally has high voter participation in federal elections. The 2014 municipal elections were higher, with 70 percent participation rate, with the new laws hoping to maintain these numbers.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, encouraged citizens go to the polls Sunday to strengthen “the long democratic tradition” of the Central American nation.
To ensure the transparency of the elections, nearly 80,000 officials will be overseeing the voting process including, prosecutors, auxiliary delegates, board members, observers and polling managers.
Fifty international observers from countries such as Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, United States and Russia, among others, are also present.