Voters in Costa Rica sent former San Jose Mayor Johnny Araya and opposition leader Luis Guillermo Solis to an April 6 runoff after neither candidate received enough votes to win the presidency outright.
With 69 percent of votes in yesterday’s election counted, Solis of the Citizen’s Action Party had 30.6 percent to 29.8 percent for Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party, or PLN. Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front Party, who had 17 percent, conceded his loss last night. Pre-election polls showed Araya and Villalta as the top contenders, with as many as one-third of voters undecided.
Corruption scandals, historically high unemployment and a debate over a fiscal package to rein-in a widening budget deficit in the $45 billion economy undermined the government of President Laura Chinchilla, who wasn’t eligible for re-election and didn’t campaign publicly with Araya.
“These results show us how the Costa Rican state has lost legitimacy because it’s not working properly, because it has sometimes lacked transparency, because it’s been unable to reduce poverty,” Araya told supporters after polls closed yesterday. “But I’m here to say that we are the most effective instrument to return legitimacy to the state, our team, this party.”
Araya, 56, has a political pedigree: his uncle Luis Alberto Monge was Costa Rica’s president from 1982-1986 and his brother Rolando lost a bid for the presidency in 2002.
Solis, a 55-year-old university professor and former diplomat, will be leading his party to its first runoff since being created in 2000 by a group of PLN dissenters.
“A new Costa Rica was born today,” Solis told supporters chanting “No more chorizos,” slang for corruption, in San Jose yesterday. “The wave that was rising has become a tsunami that has shattered traditional politics in this country forever.”
About 3.1 million voters were registered in an election that also saw all 57 seats in Congress up for grabs.
This year’s runoff will be the second in Costa Rica’s history, after the 2002 election between the PLN and the Social Christian Unity Party. If Araya wins, it would be the first time the same party would rule for three consecutive four-year terms.
To contact the reporter on this story: Isabella Cota in San Jose, Costa Rica at firstname.lastname@example.org