A walkover in Central America

No doubts about the result in the second round of Costa Rica’s presidential election. The new president will be Luis Guillermo Solís, from the populist Citizens’ Action Party. With about 98% of polling places reporting, he has 77.8% of the vote; his opponent, Johnny Araya, from the incumbent centrist National Liberation Party (PLN), has just 22.2%.

That’s not at all surprising, because Araya conceded defeat a month ago and withdrew from campaigning. Polls showed him trailing by more than 40 points, and he said “It is only prudent not to spend millions on publicity, meetings and other events.”

As you might expect, turnout in the second round was a record low, although at 56.6% it was still pretty respectable. The next time Costa Rica is engaging in constitutional revision, it might be worth inserting a provision that allows a candidate to withdraw before the second round, thus saving the country the trouble and expense of a runoff election in cases like this.

Costa Rica is generally seen as the most successful democracy in the region, with regular peaceful transfers of power in free elections. The PLN is traditionally the main centre-left party, but over the last decade or so it has drifted to the right with the decline of its centre-right rival, the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC).

New parties have developed to fill the gap. This is the first time the Citizens’ Action Party has won the presidency, but it came very close in 2006. There is also a leftist party, the Broad Front, which came third in the first round with 17.2%, and a free-market liberal party, the Libertarian Movement.

Solís will have to engage in some horse trading to get legislation passed, since no-one has a majority in the Legislative Assembly. The PLN came out in front, with 18 of the 57 seats, as against 13 for Solís’s party, nine for the Broad Front, eight for the PUSC and four for the Libertarians. Four minor parties shared the remaining five seats.

I probably shouldn’t mention this, but the election is also a lesson in the hazards of prediction. The first round was held on the same day as that in El Salvador, and reporting on them I said that El Salvador’s result was “pretty much a foregone conclusion”, whereas in Costa Rica “The second round is wide open.”

Sure enough, El Salvador turned in a cliffhanger in the second round, while Costa Rica was a walkover.

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