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If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

March 11, 2014

Only a month after his second-place finish, Johnny Araya has suspended his campaign for president. Or so he says. But why should the clever voter doubt his claim? Several indicators suggest that while down, the ruling party’s Araya may not be out.

In February, his own campaign’s excessive expenditures had left him with no money to fight in a second round, and Araya then called for a month-long recess from the political fray. No doubt his political handlers believed that this absence from public view could only increase Costa Rica’s fondness for their candidate. Araya’s official “suspension of the campaign” gives the National Liberation Party’s weakest element in this election – the candidate – what he wanted last month: a break from the hot lights, media investigations and political errors that have plagued his campaign.

Meanwhile, Araya has not closed his Twitter or Facebook accounts. His communication with supporters continues, uninterrupted by a fact-checking press and chattering class insistent on veracity. Continuing this artful dodge of accountable campaigning, Araya had planned a “thank you” tour to meet and embrace supporters. He had to cancel when critics pointed out that traveling the country, meeting with party regulars and thanking them for their support sounded vaguely like what political scientists call a campaign. Even the less than attentive voter could see this was politics as usual.

Recommended: Johnny Araya is down and out, but not his party, says analyst

Also sounding like he is still running a political campaign, Araya’s manager, Antonio Álvarez Desanti, continued his attack on the opposition candidate. Calling the decision by Luis Guillermo Solís to continue his own political operation until Election Day “offensive,” Desanti claimed that Araya’s departure was simply PLN’s way of lending a hand to Solís so he could organize his government. So nice of the PLN to help, but why has Araya not called Solís to concede defeat, if indeed he is no longer in the race?

Contradicting their own claim that the campaign was over, the PLN planned to send an economic team to debate Solís’ team and complained when Solís refused. This team was led by the PLN’s top economic adviser, Leiner Vargas, who has been posting messages like the following on Facebook every few hours: “No Liberationist should stay at home on April 6, 2014. Get out and vote YES, for the green and white flag!”

Recommended: Candidate Solís says voter abstention could delegitimate his presidency

More PLN political movement support has come from Fuerza Verde, a group of young National Liberation Party members who regretted “the defeatist attitude of party leaders to leave the present electoral campaign,” and called on “all Liberationists to fulfill their patriotic duty and get out and vote on Sunday, April 6.”

Others in the party have also been busy. On Friday, March 7, PLN’s leadership met with campaign organizers from Cartago in a meeting that included vice presidential candidate Jorge Pattoni and lawmaker Luis Gerardo Villanueva. Also present at that meeting was congresswoman-elect Paulina Ramírez, who later was recorded making telephone calls to PLN faithful in a further attempt to “get out the vote.” She assured the person receiving the call that this wasn’t a campaign call for Araya (after all his campaign has been suspended, no?), but rather a call to urge PLN rank-and-file to exercise their constitutional duty to vote.

When campaign staff continue to insult the opponent and want to participate in economic debates, when party leadership and party organizations use social media and phone banks to get out the vote for their candidate, the clever voter’s surprise can only be the surprise of Captain Renault from the film classic “Casablanca”:

“We are shocked, shocked to find a campaign going on here.”

In politics things are very rarely what they seem. But in this case, If It looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it is a pretty good bet you are still in duck season.

Gary L. Lehring is a professor of government at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. He is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. Read more of his columns by clicking on the hashtag #Elections 2014.

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