After National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Johnny Araya made an historic announcement Wednesday to drop out of Costa Rica’s presidential runoff, Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Luis Guillermo Solís convened a press conference to address supporters and the media about the newly cleared field.
In the same breath as he assured supporters that he was pleased with Araya’s unexpected decision, Solís acknowledged that running unopposed carried its own risks for his legitimacy as Costa Rica’s eventual president.
“There is no greater enemy to Costa Rican democracy than voter abstention,” Solís said, acknowledging the likely drop in voter turnout without an active opponent at the polls.
The PAC candidate opined that voter apathy on April 6 would weaken, if not delegitimate, his mandate if he won.
“It’s the worst thing that could happen to a president in this country with the oldest democracy in Latin America, that the president not have a popular mandate. … It would be a historical tragedy,” he said. “We need people to vote.”
According to the Supreme Elections Tribunal, 31.8 percent of Costa Ricans did not vote on Feb. 2. That number is expected to increase in the runoff vote, especially now that only one candidate remains actively campaigning.
Costa Rica’s Constitution mandates both candidates remain on the presidential runoff ballot.
Solís, a 55-year-old political scientist and historian, will need a strong mandate to corral the fractious Legislative Assembly that awaits the next president. The PLN maintains the largest block in the Assembly with 18 lawmakers, followed by PAC’s 13, and the Broad Front Party’s 9.
“The fight for me now is to preserve Costa Rican democracy and guarantee the public that the government elected on April 6 has the mandate the people want to do what the people want, which is to [break with] continuity and build a country with less poverty, less inequality and more transparency,” Solís said.
Solís stressed that he was not yet the president-elect of Costa Rica, and that only the fulfillment of the runoff election could bring that possibility to fruition. The PAC candidate said he believes campaigning is still important and plans to continue visiting communities and interest groups during the coming month.
The former diplomat said he briefly spoke with President Laura Chinchilla Wednesday afternoon, who urged him to carefully consider the foreign investments that her administration has worked to cultivate.
“I thought they were pulling my leg, we were right in the middle of a very active campaign,” Solís said when he heard rumors of the resignation Wednesday morning. “Usually an earthquake has temblors or rumblings that precede it. I never heard any rumblings” of Araya’s stepping down, he said, speaking from his home in San José.
Solís said that he had not spoken with Araya, but that he was doubtful the ruling party hopeful would return to the race.