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Little Change in Polls Despite Advertising

• Doing nothing to contradict accusations that he has an enormous ego, National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Oscar Arias told the daily Al Día he feels like he has already won the elections. Arias holds a more than 25-point lead in polls over the second-place candidate Ottón Solís, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC). Despite his feeling of triumph, Arias said his campaign is still working hard to guarantee victory.


• The ¢5 billion ($10 million) candidates have spent on their ad campaigns – 70% of which has been spent on television ads – has done very little to change the polls. In five months, only PAC and the Libertarian Movement have gained ground in the CID-Gallup poll, published in the daily La República, but have not come close to Arias.


• More than 5,000 voters who are currently serving time will be able to vote from prison in the Feb. 5 elections, AP wire service reported. This will be the second election in which prisoners can vote from prison; before that convicted voters had to be taken to regular polling stations, a problematic and costly process for the government, according to the report. Candidates are allowed to visit the prisons to campaign, a right exercised by Arias several weeks ago in El Buen Pastor women’s prison south of San José.


• Arias and Solís continued their childish name-calling last week when Arias called Solís a “Taliban” and Solís returned the insult by calling Arias a “little dictator.”


• Solís continued to swing punches when he told Al Día that Arias thinks he is God, in response to Arias’s statement that he won’t debate with Solís, “even if the Pope asked him” (TT, Jan. 13). Solís, who has been begging Arias for a debate, said “Arias thinks he is God, because only God is above the Pope.” Solís also told the daily that despite Arias’s repeated rejections of a debate, he will crumble to the pressure eventually.


• Instead of a debate, Arias has suggested a private conversation with Solís, an offer the PAC candidate has rejected. In an effort to find common ground, Arias made the same offer to union leaders, and got the same response. Albino Vargas, secretary general of the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), which supports Solís, said no conversations will be held until after the elections. Arias and the unions disagree over a number of issues, primarily the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) and the resultant opening of the state monopolies on insurance and telecommunication, both of which Arias supports and the unions do not.


• Solís told the public last week during one of his town hall meetings that under a PAC government, companies that operate in the country’s so-called free zones will have to pay taxes. Currently, manufacturing companies in free zones, mostly foreign, have been granted tax-free status as an incentive for setting up shop in Costa Rica. Regardless of who lands in the presidency, under World Trade Organization rules, as of 2009 countries cannot give tax breaks based on the requirement that a company exports. Tax breaks for services such as call centers will still be allowed, however.


• Libertarian Movement presidential candidate Otto Guevara and Union for Change candidate Antonio Alvarez Desanti have the two toughest stances against illegal immigration to Costa Rica, with the former saying the country offers inappropriate incentives to immigrants to work here, and the latter saying Costa Ricans feel marginalized and cornered by the growing number of illegal immigrants, La Nación reported. Nicaraguans come to Costa Rican not only for work, but also for free education and health care, Guevara said, proposing that these services be offered only to legal immigrants. Alvarez calls for a more restrictive and controlled border, with companies defining how many foreign workers they will need for seasonal labor, such as coffee and sugarcane harvests. Alvarez owns several banana plantations and said all of his employees are legal. Meanwhile, both Solís and Arias disapprove of the recently passed immigration law, which tightens Costa Rica’s immigration policies (TT Aug. 26, 2005).


• Democratic National Alliance presidential candidate José Miguel Villalobos, who was formerly Justice Minister, said in a debate last week that criminal punishments need to be greatly increased because, under the current system, thieves who steal less than ¢500,000 ($1,000) hardly face any penalty and the sentences aren’t worth the resources it takes to convict them.


• During the same debate, former Ombudsman José Manuel Echandi, presidential candidate for the National Union Party (PUN), and Ricardo Toledo, candidate for the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), suggested improving work and reform programs in jails. Vladimir de la Cruz, of the Democratic Force, said all firearms should be banned from private homes. And Walter Muñoz, of the National Integration Party, said the country’s various police forces need to be unified into one.


• The oldest voter in Costa Rica, Rafael Mora, 112, is still undecided about who he will vote for, La Nación reported. Mora, who still loves to play his harmonica at parties, has voted in the past for both Liberation and Unity but said he hasn’t paid attention to this year’s campaign at all. A total of 316 voters are over age 100 in Costa Rica’s 2.5-million person electorate.


• The forthcoming election prompted four days without booze last week for residents of Ciudad Quesada, in north-central Costa Rica. Campaign events by three different candidates meant more than 100 bars and liquor stores were closed Jan. 12, 13, 15 and 16, Al Día reported. The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) prohibits the sale of alcohol for 24 hours during political activities. For the Feb. 5 election, liquor sales will be prohibited Feb. 4, 5 and 6.


• Regardless of who comes out the victor Feb. 5, Mexican President Vicente Fox will attend the inauguration of Costa Rica’s new President May 8 in an effort to continue strengthening relations between the two countries.


• Legislators have given up on their dream of a new $30 million building, instead opting to renovate their current facilities to put them into accordance with the health code, La Nación reported. The Ministry of Public Health last year condemned some Assembly structures because of problems with rodents, fire safety, and sewage drainage, forcing the Legislative Assembly to rent new buildings while a permanent solution is sought.


• The Legislative Assembly plans to spend nearly $7 million in goods in services this year, including ¢1.3 billion ($2.7 million) for new computers and recording equipment, ¢476 million ($960,000) to rent buildings, ¢91 million ($183,000) for legislative trips out of the country, and ¢62 million ($125,000) to buy coffee, tea, sugar, cookies and other snacks, the daily La Nación reported.



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