EspañolOn Sunday, Costa Ricans went to the polls for a second round of presidential elections, following an initial round plagued by a high level of abstention that reached 38.81 percent. In an unusual move, ruling party candidate of the National Liberation Party (PLN), Johnny Araya, withdrew from the race in the lead-up. Assured of victory then and gaining 77.9 percent of the vote, Luis Guillermo Solís, opposition candidate of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), is the new president of Costa Rica.
Two hours after the polls closed, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released initial results with 92.6 percent of the vote tallied. Solís earned 1,258,715 votes in total, surpassing the one million vote goal he proposed, and earning a considerably higher total than Araya (357,496 votes or 22.1 percent).
The arrival of the PAC as a political force not only puts an end to two consecutive administrations of the PLN, but also to the two-party system dominated by the PLN and the Christian Social Unity Party.
“This is the end of traditional politics … As president-elect, I declare the beginning of an era of citizen action,” Solís said after the results.
Araya, who announced a month ago that he was dropping out of the race due to low polling numbers and financial constraints, immediately conceded to Solís.
“I begin by acknowledging, with humility and respect, the results [of the election] that we know, and congratulate President-elect Luis Guillermo Solís.”
For the first time in 62 years, the departure of Araya from the race left the PLN in an election without a candidate or resources. Faced with this setback, the party leadership created small campaign teams dispersed throughout the country. “The people of the PLN are all guts and heart,” said the PLN candidate before casting his own ballot, referring to the lack of resources his party faced during the election.
Despite his withdrawal from the campaign, Costa Rica law does not allow for a candidate to renounce his candidacy, and Araya’s name was still on the ballot. In spite of the odds, Araya did not lose hope of a possible turnaround in results. “Anything can happen,” said the candidate. “It’s a coin toss. It’s still perfectly possible [to win], the liberationists are challenging adversity.”
Before voting, the former mayor of San José said his desire to be president had not vanished. “I hope to be president. Starting tomorrow, I will serve this country, either as president or as a citizen.” He confirmed he would remain involved in Costa Rican politics “regardless of the outcome.”
A Smooth Election
Once again, voter abstention was a focal point in this election, the level in this round reaching 43.6 percent. With four out of every ten eligible voters staying home on election day, this cycle saw the lowest turnout since 1953, according to figures from the TSE.
Electoral observers from the Organization of American States (OAS ) oversaw the second round of voting to ensure order and compliance with the rules. According to Costa Rican newspaper La Nación, the only problem noted was the absence of PLN representatives in at least 15 polling stations across the country.
This was the second time since 1949 that Costa Rica has needed a second round to elect a new president of the republic, and the TSE set up 2,112 voting centers and 6,515 polling stations nationwide. Election day began at 6:00AM and ended at 6:00PM. Two hours after the polls closed, the TSE began its formal session where officials reported the initial results.
PAC Faces New Challenges
According to Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a Latin-American public policy analyst at the Cato Institute, there are new challenges that will confront the 47th president of Costa Rica.
“Unfortunately, the challenges facing Costa Rica will require that this honeymoon being enjoyed by Luis Guillermo will soon fade in the next few days.”
Among the issues that the Solís administration must deal with, Hidalgo cites the recent decision by Intel to relocate its semiconductor plant outside of the country.
“The economic impact is such that the country goes from an upper-middle income nation to a lower-middle income nation overnight,” says the analyst.
Hidalgo says the PAC also begins its administration with an estimated fiscal deficit of 6 percent of GDP, and must contend with the issue of public sector pay as primarily responsible for the rapid growth of expenditures. The new government must also consider the high price of electricity, and the country’s entrance into the Pacific Alliance.
The Cato Institute analyst also believes there is a high probability that Solís will respond with a more interventionist approach to the economy.
“Too bad. This is what Costa Ricans have decided this time. The fight for Costa Rica to be country with an open economy, competitive, dynamic, and free goes on. For the moment, the liberals have failed to convince the people that this is the path that the country should follow. The struggle continues.”