Costa Ricans head to the polls Today with a crowded presidential field and no clear favorite for tackling growing economic concerns in one of Latin America’s stablest democracies.
Often referred to as the region’s “happiest” country, Costa Rica is nonetheless grappling with a growing economic crisis, and the ruling Citizen’s Action Party (PAC) is set for a bruising defeat.
The economy has tanked under President Carlos Alvarado Quesada. And the PAC candidate, former economy minister Welmer Ramos, seems to be paying the price for sky-high anti-government feeling, polling at just 0.3 percent.
“The ruling party is completely weakened and has no chance” after two successive terms in office, said political analyst Eugenia Aguirre.
“The presidential unpopularity figure of 72 percent is the highest since the number was first recorded in 2013,” she added.
It means the country’s traditional political heavyweights — the centrist National Liberation Party (PLN) and the right-wing Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) — could return to the fore after decades of a near political duopoly only recently broken by the PAC.
According to one poll published this month, former president Jose Maria Figueres (1994-98) of the PLN leads the race with just over 17 percent of stated support, followed by the PUSC’s Lineth Saborio on just under 13 percent.
Presidents cannot seek successive reelection.
Problems have worsened
To win outright in Sunday’s first round, a candidate needs 40 percent of the vote, otherwise there will be a runoff on April 3 between the top two.
Polls show that about a third of the country’s 3.5 million voters are undecided as they are faced with a choice from 25 presidential candidates.
Unemployment, corruption and living costs are the top concerns. Costa Rica is known for its eco-tourism and green policies: its energy grid is entirely run on renewable sources.
Unlike many of volatile Central American neighbors, Costa Rica has no army, has had no armed conflicts since 1948 and no dictator since 1919.
But the worsening economic situation has hit confidence in the political class.
Voters under 40 have only known “periods in which not only problems have not been resolved, but they have worsened,” university student Edgardo Soto, one undecided voter, told AFP.
Unemployment has been steadily rising for more than a decade and reached 14.4 percent in 2021.
Apathy and abstentionism are features of Costa Rican elections. In 2018, 34 percent of voters stayed away, though participation is technically obligatory.
Polls show evangelical Christian singer Fabricio Alvarado Munoz of the right-wing New Republic Party (PNR) in third spot with just over 10 percent.
He commands support from the evangelical community, which makes up about 20 percent of Costa Rica’s five million people.
In fourth place is economist Rodrigo Chaves of the newly-formed centrist Social Democratic Progress Party. The highest-polling left-wing candidate is Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front.
For the PLN’s Figueres, 67, the crowded field “is a reflection of this whole frustration that has built up.”
“If there are 25 options it is because the parties are not understanding the needs of a society that is changing right before their eyes,” he said.
by David GOLDBERG