Why are Costa Ricans voting? Because they can

February 7, 2016

For the first time in six years Costa Ricans are getting the chance to choose their mayors and city council members on Sunday.

Two-toned flags with the colors of political parties flew outside polling stations around San José, the country’s largest canton, and trucks with speakers blared slogans to get people out, but there seemed to be little pent up demand in the streets.

Municipal elections have struggled with low turnout in the past, but those who did vote said they did so out of a sense of patriotic obligation.

Mireya Barrantes and Mari Chacón voted together at the Escuela de México in the Aranjuez neighborhood of San José. Barrantes said that it was an obligation to come out and vote when people in other countries didn’t have the same freedoms.

“No one puts a gun to your head here and says you have to vote for someone,” Barrantes said. “We’re free to choose for ourselves.”

Shirley Martínez from Moravia said she planned to vote Sunday more out of obligation than a particular political party’s platform. “People don’t like to bother to come out and vote, but it’s something that lots of people don’t have the right to do, like in Cuba,” she said.

The issues that did motivate some of the voters with whom The Tico Times spoke were mostly quality of life issues like noise pollution and making San José a “city where people live,” in the words of one voter who did not give her name. For Eduardo García, who lives in Desamparados, crime and a lack of public safety were his main drivers to vote. That canton saw a spike in homicides in 2015.

But others decided Sunday’s vote wasn’t worth their time. José Ruiz from Sarapiquí passed up his chance to vote to visit his girlfriend in San José. He said he didn’t care about politics.

“There’s a lot of corruption,” he said, shrugging.

Some of those who said they didn’t plan to vote were among the most opinionated about the state of their cantons.

Norma Calvo, a lottery ticket seller in Plaza de la Cultura, said that she was fed up with politicians and had no plans to vote Sunday or in the future. She said that she was frustrated with the high cost of living in San José, from food to rent. But her deeper frustration was the sense that elected officials do not represent her interests.

“These people will promise anything to get into office and then once they’re there, what? Nothing,” Calvo said. “They don’t do anything they say they will.”

Minor Durán, a voter from San Pedro, took a different approach to his frustrations. He said he votes in every election: “No one’s going to decide for me.”

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