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Poll: Fragmented Assembly Likely

IT is looking more and more likely that former President Oscar Arias will return to Casa Presidencial next May, but the National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate may not be joined by a majority in the Legislative Assembly and could instead face a legislature as divided as it is now.


If the elections were today, instead of in two months, Arias would receive 45% of the vote, according to the latest Unimer poll published in the daily La Nación. The poll puts Arias a solid 5% above the magic 40% mark that eliminates the need for a second round of elections and destroys the hopes of the various candidates who trail Arias from a distance.


Closest behind Arias, with 20.5% in the polls, is Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís, who was responsible in 2002 for pushing the elections into a second round for the first time in recent history.


Like the 2002 elections, the Feb. 6 elections stand to offer further proof that the decades-old two-party system dominated by Liberation and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) has come to a close.


The poll puts Unity candidate Ricardo Toledo in a dismal sixth place, behind Solís, Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara (14.6%), Union for Change candidate Antonio Alvarez Desanti (7%), and National Union Party (PUN) candidate and political newcomer José Manuel Echandi (4.2%), who won public support as Ombudsman from 2001 to 2005.


The 3.1% support for Toledo is particularly low considering the party received 38.6% of the vote in the first round of the 2002 elections before going on to win in the second round.


According to the poll, longtime Unity supporters have fled to almost evenly to other parties; 19% to Arias, 14% each to Solís and Guevara and portions to Alvarez, Echandi and Juan José Vargas of the Patria First party. Toledo holds on to only 8% of traditional Unity voters.


PAC has also struggled to hold onto the people who supported it in 2002. Only 37% plan to vote for Solís again, according to the poll, conducted Nov. 11-23. Arias, by contrast, holds on to 71% of traditional Liberation voters. Arias is also attracting the greatest number of young, first-time voters, with 33%, while Solis comes in second in this group, with 21%.


While support for Toledo has fallen from 9% in the Unimer poll in April, Guevara showed the greatest increase in the poll since August, increasing five points. Solis also showed a three-point increase from 18% in August.


Considering Arias’ extensive lead, a second round is considered the only possibility any of the other candidates have of making it to Casa Presidencial. But despite Arias’ hope that Liberation will win a majority in the 57-member Legislative Assembly, this might not become a reality, according to the Unimer poll. Based on the poll’s sample of 2,418 people, double the normal amount for Unimer, and the margin of error of 2.3%, Unimer and La Nación estimate that while it’s possible Liberation will win a majority, it is more likely to win 23-25 legislative seats.


The most probable numbers of seats for other parties are 14-15 for PAC, nine to 12 for the Libertarian Movement, seven or eight for Unity and two to four for UPC. Four other parties have the possibility of getting at least one legislator, according to the poll. This means a total of nine parties could be represented in the Legislative Assembly.


“The country is broke and it is not willing to give hegemonic power to anybody at this point. Levels of mistrust are high,” said political analyst and Liberation critic Luis Guillermo Solís. This doesn’t mean the continuance of the same chaos that now reigns in the Legislative Assembly, the most unproductive in decades, he continued; any Executive Branch that proves to be more coherent than the current administration will be able to handle the assembly better, and political parties have been more selective in choosing loyal legislative candidates.


Liberation plans to focus its January campaigning on consolidating votes for its legislative candidates, explained Fernando Zumbado, image coordinator for Arias. They, and other parties, may see results for their efforts: the poll also revealed that 24% of voters said they would not make their final decision until the day of the election, and another 15% said they’ll make their final decision a few days before. The rate of absenteeism has dropped from a potential half of voters to 29-38%.


“We really don’t know what is going to happen. Abstention rates and undecided  votes are still very high, which leaves a margin for significant changes,” analyst Solís said.


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