A majority of National Liberation Party (PLN) delegates on Saturday elected ex-President José María Figueres Olsen, who ruled Costa Rica from 1994-1998, to chair the party for the next four years.
Figueres, the son of the PLN’s founder, José Figueres Ferrer, beat former minister and ex-lawmaker Francisco Antonio Pacheco Fernández by a 89-46 vote. Pacheco represented the bloc of liberacionistas who are aligned with former two-term president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Óscar Arias Sánchez.
The PLN’s new leader downplayed whether he is considering a presidential bid for 2018, although in recent statements he said “it was a possibility.”
Figueres stressed that he would focus on strengthening the weakened party ahead of upcoming municipal elections in 2016 and the presidential election in 2018.
“We have a tough job ahead. The party needs to be reborn, it needs to be rejuvenated, we need to modernize it with the sole purpose of make it useful for Costa Rica,” Figueres told members of the media following the party vote.
Arias appeared deeply surprised by the outcome, commenting that he had preferred someone who could foster internal party neutrality, “which is something that is not going to happen now.”
“Everyone knows that José María Figueres likely will run for president,” Arias said, adding that despite the delegate vote, his followers represent the largest group within the PLN.
Jorge Pattoni Sánchez, who was Johnny Araya’s vice presidential running mate last year, was elected as Liberation’s vice president. Fernando Zamora Castellanos was elected secretary general, and Shirley Calvo Jiménez will be the vice secretary general. Current lawmaker Paulina Ramírez Portuguez won the post of treasurer, and Marco Cercone Cabezas will be vice treasurer.
Juan Alberto Corrales Ramírez and Silvia Rodríguez Sibaja were elected as monitoring board members.
The 60-year-old former president returned to Costa Rica in December 2011 for the first time in 11 years, after moving to Europe following a scandal involving French telecom Alcatel, which allegedly paid Figueres nearly $1 million in consulting fees in exchange for lobbying for the company in Costa Rica. While Figueres was never charged with a crime, many believe the payment was highly irregular.