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Costa Rica votes in the Presidential election this Sunday and, bluntly, all we haven’t had so far is the seven dwarfs.
We’ve had one party’s candidate pull out claiming that his election backers were secretly in league with the candidate of another party…..the backers protesting their innocence and claiming that the now ex candidate had wanted to impose on them support for an ex President of Costa Rica caught with his hand in the till…..
We have had a four times married candidate decide to marry for the fifth time – one more heave, one might say – and send his new dentist wife round poor districts of the country offering free dentistry, working from a van painted in the party colours….
We have had the interesting revelation that two of the main contenders are under investigation for misuse of public funds and influence in one case and for breaking electoral funding law in the other while a third can proudly proclaim that his only brush with the law was being arrested on a demo….
One – the one with campaign funding questions dating back years – is proudly unmarrried and is trying to court the religious conservative vote…..whose party’s candidate is the man who succeeded the one who pulled out….
The internet is alive with photographs of the five times married candidate’s last campaign rally….his party’s photographs giving the impression of the main approach to San Jose filled by his exultant followers, other showing the said enthusiastic followers filling about one block in ten….
Foreign owned firms have issued ‘guidance’ to their workforce, warning of the danger of the loss of jobs if they vote for the candidate who was arrested on a demo…..
American expats are packing their gear in readiness should the demonstration attender be elected, firm in the belief that the Red Hordes will immediately invade their gated communities to loot their gas fired barbeques and end civilisation as they know it….
People generally are complaining that the parties are not sending out vans laden with material in the party colours to drape round their houses….that the parties are spending the money on undermining each other on the internet instead is not regarded as a good enough excuse….
And a newspaper has cancelled a last minute pre-election poll on the grounds that it would confuse voters so close to an election. Rumour has it that it showed that the candidate who has the support of the newspaper’s owners does not show up too well in said poll….
Apart from that, it’s like any other election: wild promises, backstabbing and dirty work at the crossroads.
What did interest me was an article in ‘La Nacion’ – the newspaper which cancelled the election poll – detailing the arrangements made for transporting the voters and feeding the volunteers on election day.
I’m all too familiar with the problem of getting out the vote, taught the dark arts of which first by my father, who remembered the days when the dead walked and the war cry was’vote early, vote often…’ and later by a superb Labour Party agent who was to meet an untimely death.
He knew his election law to the last nth – and he knew the ways of the voter with an uncanny prescience, like a hunter stalking his prey.
From the article there is a clear disparity between the parties of the better off and the others: the others lack transport.
This echoes the cry heard at every election, local or national, in the offices of the Constituency Labour Party and which I first heard as a child.
‘The Tories have cars!’
Indeed they did and their party workers could afford to run them.
It was a great advantage and one my grandfather on my mother’s side would do his bit to nullify.
He would arrange that I spent the day before the election with him and his wife – partly to be out from under my parents’ feet, partly for his own ends.
A cynical gentleman injured in the First World War he had had the distinction in the Second World War of being drummed out of his local Air Raid Warden service in that he did
A. Not get past the Rose and Crown with vital messages when on exercise resulting in the gasworks being (theoretically) blown up
B. Causing alarm and despondency by creeping up on gossiping housewives and bellowing ‘Gas!’ swinging his gas rattle the while.
So the bystander might have been surprised to see this spry but elderly gentleman stepping out on the evening before the elections, a child at his side carrying a wicker pannier…not quite his image.
But, long before Baldrick, he had a cunning plan…and it involved potatoes, not turnips.
From his somewhat doubtful knowledge of the internal combustion engine he had worked out that if the exhaust was blocked the car would not go, so as we strolled along on his predetermined and well researched path he would point out a car with a flick of his finger and my job was to crouch down as if adjusting my shoelaces, insert a potato in the exhaust and shove it up as far as possible with the small stick I carried in the pannier.
Not all the cars were parked on the road…some involved darts into gardens and I was coached that if approached by indignant householders I was to plead incontinence and shyness in equal parts.
As I recall I survived these evening strolls unscathed and was rewarded by a lemonade in the beer garden of his local pub before we returned home and the reproaches of his wife to the tune of ‘keeping the child up late and is that whisky I smell on your breath?’
Did it work? I have no idea.
Election day was spent with the house full of people comparing electoral rolls with the returns of the canvassers and the reports from the tellers outside the polling stations – grandfather despatching sorties to get out the votes from whichever part of the area appeared to be backsliding.
Which brings me to the other part of the article….the parties announcing how many volunteers they proposed to feed – and with what.
Grandmother sustained the troops on her wonderful victoria sponge cake and tea: in later life the Labour Party offices would be sustained on election day on sandwiches and cigarettes.
Costa Rica does it on a meal of arroz con pollo – literally rice with chicken – which strikes me as being a sort of chicken risotto using whole portions of poultry. Beats sandwiches hands down.
All parties bar one are serving their volunteers this traditional dish.
The exception is the party whose candidate is the one with problems with previous election finding, who refuses to marry and is courting the conservative religious vote.
They are supplying burritos..a flour tortilla with a filling of minced meat, cheese and salad with a tomato sauce.
We shall see whether these torpedo shaped recipes for indigestion propel him to victory or depthcharge his chances.
But not on Sunday.
For to win outright a candidate needs to obtain more than forty percent of the vote, and, from the polls published so far, barring skulduggery on the scale of Tammany Hall crossed with the European Union, no candidate is likely even to approach that figure.
So it will all need to be done again in April…and no, not on April 1st.