Cablegate: Costa Rica's Cafta Referendum: A Primer


DE RUEHSJ #1771/01 2691419
R 261419Z SEP 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) SAN JOSE 0830, B) SAN JOSE 1571

1. SUMMARY: With Costa Rica's CAFTA referendum less than two weeks
away, the following is a basic review of the procedures and rules of
the game for this first-ever national plebiscite on this issue and
in this country. This information updates our earlier reporting on
referendum technicalities (Ref A). END SUMMARY.

2. VOTING DAY: The referendum will take place on Sunday, October 7.
Polls are to be open from 0600-1800 local. At closing time, only
those "in the act" of voting will be able to do so. Unlike in the
U.S., those still in line at 1800 will not be able to cast their
ballot. (This is to synchronize the preliminary vote count as
closely as possible.) The day of the week, the hours of voting and
the overall procedures are typical of "regular" Costa Rican
elections. Voting will take place in 4,932 locations around the
country, mostly in schools. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) is
funding bus service nationwide so that voters can get to their
voting locations for free. Employers of those working on referendum
day are required to give employees time off to vote.

3. THE VOTERS: All Costa Ricans 18 years or older on October 7 are
eligible to participate. At the close of registration on June 30,
there were approximately 2.65 million eligible voters for the
referendum (the electoral padron). Voting is mandatory, according
to the Constitution, but sanctions are rarely enforced.

3. THE BALLOT AND THE QUESTION: Voters will mark a simple paper
ballot in either the yes or no box. (Copy emailed to WHA/CEN.) The
question (informal translation): Do you approve the Dominican
Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement,
legislative No 16047, according to the text approved by the
Committee on International Relations and Foreign Trade of the
Legislative Assembly, published in Section 2 of Gazette No 19 of
January 26, 2007.

4. THE QUESTION AND THE CLAUSES: Voters in essence will act as a
legislature of the whole, approving not the CAFTA treaty per se, but
the complete treaty package, including 17 interpretative clauses,
which was approved by the International Relations Committee on
December 12, 2006 (and officially gazetted one month later). This
distinction, although raised by a few commentators, has not made an
appreciable impact on voters. The preamble to the clauses states
that they are not intended to amend or modify CAFTA (which is not
permitted), but to clarify certain aspects of the agreement in light
of the domestic political debate. In effect, the pro-CAFTA
coalition intended these clauses to bust some of the anti-CAFTA

5. THE TURNOUT: This is a key factor in whether or not the
referendum is binding. For the result to be binding, at least 40
percent of the registered voters (or approximately 1.06 million)
must cast their ballots. Blank and null ballots will count towards
the participation total. If less than 40 percent participate, CAFTA
will be returned to the Asamblea for handling as a regular treaty.
Both the Si and No camps are expected to mobilize their supporters
and help them get to the polls. Both sides also expect turnout to
exceed 40 percent

6. THE MONITORS: The voting and tabulation will be heavily
scrutinized, as is the custom with Costa Rican elections. Over
47,000 scrutineers (fiscales) and observadores (whose function is
very similar) have been accredited from 22 political parties,
including the eight represented in the Asamblea. Some will be
assigned to particular voting locations. Others will be authorized
to circulate among voting venues. The opposition PAC party tops the
list with over 15,000 registered fiscales. In addition, a number of
bilateral international observers have registered, as well as a
fairly large (30-member) OAS delegation, and a team from CAPEL. A
few Embassy officers (2-4) will be included in the OAS delegation.
Overall, the TSE expects approximately 55 international observers.
Because of the political controversy surrounding the referendum, and
the unique nature of the event, TSE officials tell us they will be
extra careful in monitoring this vote.

7. THE OPINION POLLS: No opinion polls may be published after
October 4. No exit polls may be taken on referendum day.

8. THE RESULTS: The Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE) expects to
begin announcing preliminary results after a ceremony at 2000 local
(2200 in Washington). Some 30 percent of the votes may be tabulated
by then, and the results will be updated throughout the night. If
the voting is close, it may take until after midnight (0200 October
8 Washington time) before the overall results are known. (This is
what happened in the 2006 presidential elections.) The simple
ballot should facilitate and speed up the tabulation, according to
the TSE. The mandatory manual recount, necessary to confirm the
official results, will begin on October 8 and must be completed 15
days later (NLT October 23). For transparency, the TSE will
broadcast the recount daily on the government's television station
and on line.

9. HOW TO WIN (OR LOSE): A plurality of votes cast is required
for either side to win. If the pro-CAFTA vote wins, the treaty will
be considered ratified, pending approval and validation of the
results by the TSE, and, routine processing through the Asamblea and
publication in the official gazette, as with any new law. If the
anti-CAFTA vote wins, the treaty is tabled and there will be no
further action on it. In the event of a tie, CAFTA will be returned
to the Asamblea for handling as a regular treaty.

10. IT IS NOT OVER ON OCTOBER 7: After a "Si" win (which at this
point is not guaranteed) the Asamblea must still complete the GOCR's
implementing legislation in order for CAFTA to enter into force.
This looks increasingly unlikely by March 1, 2008 (Ref B), even if
the referendum ratifies the treaty by a politically-decisive margin.
In addition, many of the implementing laws may face mandatory
review by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).
Although the Court ruled 5-2 on July 3 that CAFTA itself is not
unconstitutional, challenges to the implementing legislation may be

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