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Costa Rica headed for a runoff election as latest poll suggests 3-way tie

Costa Rica seems headed for its second runoff election in history with three candidates in a dead heat 15 days before the Feb. 2 election, according to the latest national poll.

The daily La Nación reported Thursday that José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party (FA), Johnny Araya of National Liberation (PLN), and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement Party are in a statistical tie, according to a poll by Unimer.

The left-leaning Villalta moved into first place for the first time in a national survey with 22.2 percent of likely voters saying they would support him, followed by Araya, with 20.3 percent, and Guevara, with 20.2 percent.

Villalta supporters though should hold their breath before celebrating the news. The survey of 2,469 Costa Ricans has a 2.2 percent margin of error, landing the top three candidates on equal footing, statistically, at least.

Former San José mayor Araya has seen a steep decline in support since his high in September of more than 50 percent. Meanwhile, Villalta and Guevara – political polar opposites – have bounded upward.

Luis Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and Rodolfo Piza of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) continue to limp along at 5.5 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively.

Both Araya and Solís on Thursday dismissed the poll as inaccurate.

The remaining seven presidential candidates garnered 5.8 percent.

Despite the close race, none of the top three candidates has the 40 percent required to avoid a runoff election in April.

The last time Costa Rica had a runoff election was in 2002, when Abel Pacheco of PUSC beat the PLN’s Ronaldo Araya, according to La Nación.

More than 46 percent of those surveyed by Unimer between Jan. 6 and Jan. 12 reported they would vote and had already chosen a candidate, while 21.4 were unlikely to vote.

This leaves 32 percent of likely voters up for grabs who have yet to settle on a candidate, a portion of the electorate that could easily push one candidate over the edge to victory in the first round.

Not so fast, say Solís, Araya

Ruling party candidate Araya disputed the results Thursday morning.

“First of all, I disqualify the results of this poll, and I disqualify them categorically,” he told La Nación in a telephone interview.

The CID-Gallup poll released Tuesday gave Araya a growing lead of 39 percent of likely voters, compared to 26 percent in favor of Villalta and 18 percent for Guevara.

PAC candidate Solís also took issue with the last two surveys, from CID-Gallup on Tuesday, and Unimer’s Thursday.

Solís posted a YouTube video rejecting the results and suggestions that his political party has stagnated in the polls.

Don’t be fooled by the polls! We’re the cause of joy and we’re going to win,” Solís tweeted Thursday.

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