Epsy Campbell’s decision to seek her party’s nomination for the 2010 presidential elections has touched off a fiery debate that could split the Citizen Action Party (PAC).
Campbell strongly believes that any PAC sympathizer should be able to vote in the primary. Other senior party leaders are equally convinced that the vote should be open only to the 80 party stalwarts who make up the party’s National Assembly.
The National Assembly will vote March 7 on whether the primary should be open or closed.
At stake, Campbell said, is the party’s success in the general elections.
“If the party does not open up, it cannot win,” she said.
Just eight years old, PAC was wildly successful in the 2006 national elections. The party captured one-third of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, and party founder Ottón Solís came within 18,000 votes of winning the presidency.
But just 4 percent of the country now supports PAC, according to a recent CIDGallup poll. Campbell points out that the majority of people who voted for PAC in the past have never identified as party stalwarts in polls. Still, she said, that does not mean the party can rest easy.
“An open primary would allow the tens of thousands who voted for PAC in the past to pick a candidate. But it would also attract many more people to the party,” she said.
Her position has brought her head-tohead with other party leaders. PAC President Alberto Cañas, one of PAC’s earliest members, threatened to leave the party if the National Assembly decides to hold an open primary. Party Secretary Margarita Bolaños told the daily La Nación that she could never countenance an open primary.
“Open? Open? Never!” she said.
PAC founder Ottón Solís has been publicly more flexible.
“I will agree with whatever method you propose, no matter how open, to select PAC’s candidate for president,” Solís wrote in a letter to Campbell.
Skeptics suggest that an open primary would allow PAC’s enemies to elect the weaker candidate. But Campbell said voters would act in good faith.
“The idea that people have their campaign T-shirts stuck to their bodies is a thing of the past,” she said. “This party welcomes former members of the National Liberation Party and the Social Christian Unity Party, and people who have no party at all.”
Still, when Campbell was still contemplating a run, she raised an ominous possibility.
“I want to consult a few more people to see if a primary, instead of strengthening the party, could cause it to split,” she said.