Costa Rica election: Why the left is lagging
Three of the four main candidates in Sunday's presidential race tilt toward the right. Among them, front-runner Laura Chinchilla could become the nation's first woman president.
San Jose, Costa Rica; and Panama City
The left has always been less powerful in Costa Rica than in other Latin American countries, but it's never been as absent as today.Skip to next paragraph
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Three of the four main candidates in Sunday's presidential race tilt toward the right, espousing open markets, lower taxes, and more streamlined government. Among them is a widely-popular Libertarian candidate, who has surged in polls in recent months and at one time called for the privatization of the country’s beloved public health system.
Today's lone left-leaning candidate, Ottón Solís, lost the previous presidential vote by just two percentage points in 2006. Now, he lags in third place, averaging just 14.2 percent of the vote, according to polls leading up to the race. Political analysts say 78 percent of voters will choose a candidate on the right.
Why the left is lagging
Part of the reason the left is lagging in this race can be attributed to the popularity of outgoing president Oscar Arias, a Nobel laureate from the right-of-center National Liberation Party (PLN) who ushered in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and most recently was called upon to broker the political standoff in neighboring Honduras. His party’s candidate, Laura Chinchilla, could capture more than 40 percent of votes Sunday, avoiding a runoff.
"We are going to win, and in the first round,” said Ms. Chincilla, who would become the country's first woman president if elected.
The muted left is also due to the surge of Libertarian Otto Guevara, a pro-business candidate who wants to scrap the local currency for the US dollar and is widely being viewed as an alternative to the traditional political classes in Costa Rica.
“There are a lot of people out there that say, ‘I will vote for anyone as long as they aren’t with National Liberation Party,’” says Carlos Denton, president of the San José-based polling company CID-Gallup.
Mr. Guevara, a Harvard-educated attorney, is an attractive choice for those disillusioned with the current administration, Mr. Denton says. “He came on strong, he came on well-funded, and he motivated a lot of [voters].”
One such voter is taxi driver Álvaro Palomo. He had voted for Solís in the 2006 election, but was more impressed with Guevara in this one.
“The truth is that we need change," says Mr. Palomo. "Guevara represents fresh ideas. He’s come in with some great proposals. I think he can really make a difference in Costa Rica. To me, [Solís] has lost some credibility and he doesn’t bring anything new.”
The lure of 'outsiders'
Across Latin America, voters have exhibited a desire to bring in candidates from the “outside.”