Costa Rica Coffee Guide

Presidential Elections a Surprising Squeaker

December 22, 2006

We just didn’t see it coming.

Many pollsters and journalists, along with presidential candidate Oscar Arias,were caught off guard when Arias, depicted as the assured front-runner throughout much of the 2005-2006 presidential campaign, found himself neck-and-neck with challenger Ottón Solís as the results rolled in Feb. 5.

As a month of manual recounts eventually determined that Arias had won by just over one percentage point – a margin of 18,169 votes, only 0.92% above the 40% minimum necessary to avoid a second round – citizens, analysts and politicians were left to wonder how the surprising nail biter had come about, and what it meant for the country’s politics.

It was clear in the weeks before Election Day that the contest would be close. Support for former President Arias (1986-1990), of the National Liberation Party (PLN), fell by as much as seven points in various polls during the last weeks of January, and support for Solís, of the relatively new Citizen Action Party (PAC), shot up. However, the Arias campaign, which in 2005 had been so confident about its candidate’s victory that it shifted focus to the Legislative Assembly, remained confident.

On Election Day, when supporters of various parties filled the streets with colorful T-shirts and flags, Arias saw his estimated 10% lead over Solís drop to just fractions of a percentage point. According to analysts and pollsters, corruption scandals and major parties’ inability to make themselves stand out have reduced party loyalty in recent years; as a result, many voters made up, or changed, their minds at the last minute.

The Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), which Arias supports and Solís opposes, was also a major factor. When Arias was named the official President-elect in March, he said he was prepared to address the clear divisions in the country by building “bridges with those who oppose us.”

Despite allegations of election irregularities that emerged during the manual count, mostly from members of PAC, the country kept its calm throughout the entire process.

Voters chose a divided assembly, giving Liberation only 25 seats in the 57-member Congress. PAC won 17 seats, the Libertarian Movement six, and four smaller parties one seat each. The Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), whose decline was the other big story of the election, went from the leading party in the assembly to a group of only five legislators. PUSC presidential candidate Ricardo Toledo won only 3.55% of the vote.

Crippled by corruption allegations against the two most recent Presidents from the party and criticism of the third, Abel Pacheco, whom Arias succeeded in May, Unity watched its supporters flee to other parties. The Libertarian Movement candidate, Otto Guevara, finished third with 8.48%.

In December, municipal elections were held to choose the country’s 81 mayors and 4,870 other local officials. Abstention, which totaled approximately 35% in February’s elections, reached a whopping 75% –though, believe it or not, that figure represents a 1% improvement over 2002’s municipal elections, the first in Costa Rican history.

Liberation took the day with 59 mayoral seats, and PUSC dropped from 48 seats to only 11; leaders from a wide range of parties, including Liberation, called on legislators to change the date of the elections and increase public funding for campaigns to reduce abstention.

Perhaps the year’s most faithful voters were members of the Foundation for the Progress of Blind People, who made their own Braille ballot covers for February’s elections, saying they were sick of having to express their preferences aloud or rely on a friend in a country where the Constitution includes the right to a secret vote. In December, the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) created its version of the Braille ballots for the first time in the country’s history.

 

You may be interested

Costa Rica coronavirus updates for Wednesday, September 30
Costa Rica
5587 views
Costa Rica
5587 views

Costa Rica coronavirus updates for Wednesday, September 30

Alejandro Zúñiga - September 30, 2020

Costa Rica announced 24 new coronavirus-related deaths over the last day for a total of 904, according to official data…

Some 34 million jobs lost in Latin America due to pandemic
Business
3341 views
Business
3341 views

Some 34 million jobs lost in Latin America due to pandemic

Carlos MANDUJANO / AFP - September 30, 2020

The two aspirers for the presidency of Costa Rica, the evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado and the former minister Carlos Alvarado, reach the closing of the electoral campaign for April 1st with a technical draw, according to a poll disclosed this Friday.

CureVac launches second stage of vaccine clinical trials in Peru and Panama
News
21363 views
News
21363 views

CureVac launches second stage of vaccine clinical trials in Peru and Panama

AFP - September 30, 2020

The German pharmaceutical company CureVac announced that it has started Phase 2 clinical trials of its experimental vaccine against Covid-19,…