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Costa Rica Proceeds to Run-Off; Abstention Decides the Election

By: María Gabriela Díaz - Feb 3, 2014, 3:17 pm

EspañolOn Sunday, Costa Ricans went to the polls to choose their upcoming president, as well as the representatives who will fill 57 seats in the National Assembly for the 2014-2018 tenure. From 6 a.m. CST (7 a.m. EST) to 6 p.m CST, all voting stations opened to assist and process 3.1 million constituents. However, 31.73 percent of Costa Ricans didn’t cast their ballots.

For this election, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) utilized 12,908 electoral support officers, 40,000 polling station staff, and more than 200 national and international observers. The electoral body also facilitated participation for 12,654 voters around the world, since this was the first election in the history of the country that Costa Ricans abroad could participate.

At 8 p.m., two hours after the polling stations closed, the TSE began the formal release of the first provisional results. With barely 9 percent of the ballots counted, the ruling party candidate of the National Liberation Party (PLN), Johnny Araya, was leading the race with 36.24 percent of the vote, followed by Luis Guillermo Solís of the Citizen Action Party (PAC) with 21.08 percent. The third most popular candidate was José María Villalta of the Broad Front with 17.37 percent, and Otto Guevara from the Libertarian Movement with 12.44 percent.

Every proceeding 15 minutes, the TSE then released the updated results with further votes counted. According to their latest update, released today at 12:03 p.m. CST, Solís (30.95) has spiked and become the candidate with the highest number of votes, followed by Araya (29.59). Villalta remains in third place (17.14), and Otto Guevara (11.19) remains in fourth.

Nonetheless, this result is not absolute. Luis Manuel Sobrado, president of the TSE, informed observers that the definitive scrutiny process would begin on Tuesday, and it could take until the last week of February. Once finished, the electoral body will inform constituents whether a run-off will be necessary, in which case it will take place on April 6.

If this electoral outcome holds, and there is a second round, Costa Ricans will have to decide between the National Liberation Party and the Citizen Action Party.

Beyond the presidential race, results for the National Assembly show most votes also went to the PLN and PAC, with 25.52 percent and 23.82 percent, respectively. They were followed by Broad Front with 13.08 percent, the Social Christian Union Party with 10.01 percent, and the Libertarian Movement with 7.92 percent.

What Candidates Said About the Aftermath

After the unexpected results, Solís of PAC, who always had third and forth place in the earlier polling, emphasized: “Even tonight they thought we wouldn’t rule, but we will rule, and we will do it with soundness and teamwork, because we have unity and the people of Costa Rica has said ‘here we are.'” With regard to the country’s traditional bipartisanship, the PAC candidate stated “what people said from coast to coast came true, the rising wave transformed into a big tsunami that has dragged traditional politics forever.”

Solís was previously affiliated to the PLN, but he quit the party almost ten years ago due to ideological differences and his discontent with the party’s internal corruption. He has previously been chief of cabinet during Óscar Arias’ first tenure, ambassador for Central American Affairs, and head of foreign policy in the administration of José María Figueres Olsen. Solís submitted his candidature with PAC’s support with one aim: to put an end to the “misgovernment” held by PLN.

Regarding Solís’ peak, Araya asserted, “there’s no doubt that the electoral result has shown that we still haven’t proved enough to the people that we want to rectify, we want a responsible change for Costa Rica.” He also stated, “today our democracy was the winner. We can feel legitimate pride over the democracy we have. . . . We already played a half game, but now we still need the second half, and then you’ll see the mettle and disposition of the National Liberation Party.”

After hearing the results, Villalta, who had been predicted as a runner-up by several polling firms, commented on his defeat: “We won’t deny we were expecting more.” However, the Broad Front candidate described as positive the legislative results. His party earned nine seats, eight more than single seat they previously had. With regard to his party’s recent popularity, he asserted, “the hegemony of traditional parties has been broken, as well as the continuation of the National Liberation Party.”

The End of Two-Party Rule in Costa Rica

On this new political spectrum for the country, president of polling firm UNIMER Carlos Paniagua believes the people’s discontent towards bipartisanship has made room for the creation of a new political force.

In this regard, the results have broken the paradigm of the expected encounter between traditional parties like the National Liberation Party and Christian Social Unity Party. Paniagua states, “a bad performance from the Christian Social administration in the period 2002-2006 and the disappointment with the performances of new political forces in Congress led to a polarized electorate for the 2006 elections, searching for a new choice.” According to Paniagua, this choice was the PLN, which ruled the country for eight years.

The president of UNIMER further explains, “the government led by Óscar Arias for 2006-2010 gave air to the National Liberation Party, who could successfully win the 2010 elections, choosing current President Laura Chinchilla. But this government again has lost the country’s trust in their political leaders, and gained the worst level of approval in 20 years.”

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.