Less than a week after his presidential campaign concluded, José María Villalta gave a wide-ranging postmortem interview with the daily La Nación on the election, the upcoming runoff and his future.
Villalta, of the leftist Broad Front Party, spoke candidly on his doubts about a government run by the Citizen Action Party (PAC) and why he hasn’t cast his support for the center-left party.
PAC candidate Luis Guillermo Solís went from a footnote to the frontrunner for Costa Rica’s presidency in a couple of months. He’s the presumptive favorite against Johnny Araya, of the ruling centrist National Liberation Party, in a runoff on April 6. During last Sunday’s election, Solís surprised many by finishing with approximately 31 percent of the vote, with 90 percent of votes counted. He surpassed the favorite Araya, who earned 29.6 percent. Villalta landed in third place with 17 percent.
The clearest path to victory for Solís would appear to be simply scooping up Villalta’s support. That won’t be as easy now with Villalta questioning PAC’s principles.
Truthfully, it’s doubtful Solís must have Villalta’s approval for him to win the presidency. Villalta’s supporters are significantly more inclined to vote for Solís than Araya, as are backers for many of the smaller parties. Unless a huge number of voters abstain, it’s difficult to see Araya winning, at least in the current moment (two more months of campaigning await).
However, an alliance would be crucial for governing due to the country’s fractured Legislative Assembly. The National Liberation Party still will control the majority of Assembly seats. If PAC and the Broad Front Party can’t get along, the country’s Assembly will struggle to pass any legislation.
In his concession speech, Villalta hinted at the sudden rift between his party and PAC. He referred harshly to the runoff as a choice between “the right-wing that robs and the right-wing that doesn’t.”
In the interview with La Nación, published Friday, he made it clear that his party would not support Solís without a discussion first.
“They are looking for a way to have the votes of the Broad Front Party without talking to the Broad Front Party,” Villalta said in the Q&A interview. “I don’t know if they’ll succeed.”
Villalta doesn’t seem to have a problem with the PAC candidate himself. In fact, he never mentioned Solís by name throughout the entire interview. Villalta’s concerns related more to perceived behind-the-scenes conservatives forces in PAC that are trying to pull the party toward the right. (Villalta faced similar criticisms about his own party, except the alleged conflict was about extreme left-wing voices trying to bully less radical ones.)
Villalta said he felt betrayed that the PAC grew by distancing itself from the left. He said the party began to participate in the relentless attacks on Villalta that accused him of trying to install in Costa Rica a dictatorial communist government in the style of Cuba and Venezuela, an accusation that angered both Villalta and his supporters.
Here’s how he described current ties with PAC to La Nación:
They are frigid relations, mostly as a result of decisions made by the leaders of PAC. PAC leaders decided to stop viewing the Broad Front Party as a potential ally, and during the last weeks of the race joined the campaign of fear against the (Broad Front), with themes of religious conservatism and anti-communist speech.
Villalta said he doesn’t view the party as an enemy. He accused PAC of demonstrating conflicting ideologies within its rhetoric. “We don’t know which PAC will lead, if it will be the PAC that fought alongside us or the PAC that joined in the fear campaign against us,” Villalta said.
The ex-candidate said he was open to a conversation with Solís, but he was frank in stating that he wouldn’t come looking for the PAC candidate.
With what has happened … it is not the role of the Broad Front Party to look to have the conversation (with PAC). We are already done. The people spoke and said the second round is between the PAC and Liberation. The others were eliminated.
Villalta dismissed any chance of a conversation with Araya about supporting his candidacy, saying, “The leadership of the National Liberation party does not merit the slightest bit of credibility.”
That perhaps might be all the endorsement PAC needs from the Broad Front Party.
Elsewhere in the interview, Villalta gloated about the crash of Otto Guevara’s Libertarian Movement Party. The four-time presidential candidate finished in fourth in the polls, and his party lost almost all of its seats in the Legislative Assembly. Throughout the campaign season, it was Guevara’s campaign that was most fervent in pushing conservative ideals and accusing Villalta of being a communist.
“The party destined all its resources to mount an attack to try to sink us with lies and exaggerations, and the party ended up sinking. The Libertarian Movement Party almost disappeared, and I can say that the Broad Front Party contributed to that,” Villalta said.
Out of the top candidates, Villalta stated that he got along best with conservative candidate Roldofo Piza of the Social Christian Unity Party. He called Piza a friendly, sweet and sensitive character, despite the image of an abrasive and serious man. Piza finished fifth in the race.
Villalta said he has no interest in speculating about 2018. He will continue to work to strengthen his party, but also wants to focus on his academic and law career. Villalta expects to be kept busy with fights over environmental and human rights issues.
He also asserted for the umpteenth time that he’s not a communist.
The Q&A goes into many more details. Read the whole interview in La Nación (en español).