Costa Rica picks a new president. Can he restore public trust?

On Sunday, conservative economist Rodrigo Chaves beat out former president José Figueres Ferrer in a runoff vote, becoming the next president of Costa Rica. The election, however, saw low voter turnout after a campaign season steeped in personal attacks.

Carlos Gonzalez/AP
Costa Rica's former finance minister Rodrigo Chaves speaks to supporters at his headquarters in San Jose, Costa Rica, after winning a presidential runoff election, April 3, 2022. Mr. Chaves pledged to address key issues like unemployment and the budget deficit.

A former finance minister who surprised many by making it into Costa Rica’s presidential runoff has easily won the election and is to become the Central American country’s new leader next month while still fending off accusations of sexual harassment when he worked at the World Bank.

With nearly all polling stations reporting late Sunday, conservative economist Rodrigo Chaves had 53% of the vote, compared to 47% for former President José Figueres Ferrer, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said.

More than 42% of eligible voters did not participate, an unusually low turnout for the country, reflecting the lack of enthusiasm Costa Ricans had for the candidates.

In his victory speech, Mr. Chaves called for unity to address problems like unemployment and a soaring budget deficit.

“For me this is not a medal nor a trophy, but rather an enormous responsibility, heaped with challenges and difficulties that we will all resolve,” he said.

“Costa Rica, the best is to come!” Mr. Chaves said before celebrating supporters. His inauguration is scheduled for May 8.

Mr. Figueres conceded defeat less than an hour after results began to come in. He had led the first round of voting Feb. 6, with Mr. Chaves in second that day. Neither had come close to the 40% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff.

Mr. Figueres congratulated Mr. Chaves and wished him the best, adding that he continues to believe that Costa Rica is in a “deep crisis” and that he is willing to help it recover.

Mr. Figueres, who was Costa Rica’s president from 1994 to 1998, represents the National Liberation Party like his father, three-time president José Figueres Ferrer. Mr. Chaves served briefly in the administration of outgoing President Carlos Alvarado and represents the Social Democratic Progress Party.

Both men waged a bruising campaign.

Mr. Chaves’ campaign is under investigation by electoral authorities for allegedly running an illegal parallel financing structure. He also has been dogged by a sexual harassment scandal that drove him out of the World Bank.

While working at the bank, he was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, was eventually demoted, and then resigned. He has denied the accusations.

The World Bank’s administrative tribunal last year criticized the way the case was initially handled internally.

The tribunal noted that an internal investigation found that from 2008 to 2013 Mr. Chaves leered at, made unwelcome comments about physical appearance, repeated sexual innuendo, and unwelcome sexual advances toward multiple bank employees. Those details were repeated by the bank’s human resources department in a letter to Mr. Chaves, but it decided to sanction him for misconduct rather than sexual harassment.

“The facts of the present case indicate that [Chaves’] conduct was sexual in nature and that he knew or should have known that his conduct was unwelcome,” the tribunal wrote. The tribunal also noted that in the proceedings, the bank’s current vice president for human resources said in testimony “that the undisputed facts legally amount to sexual harassment.”

Political analyst Francisco Barahona said Costa Ricans’ lack of enthusiasm, as shown by the low turnout, was the result of the many personal attacks that characterized the campaign.

“In the debates they only heated things up in personal confrontations, mistreatment of each other,” he said. “They didn’t add depth to their proposals to resolve the country’s problems. The debates didn’t help to motivate the electorate.”

“For a lot of people it’s embarrassing to say they voted for one or the other, and many prefer to say they won’t vote for either of the candidates or simply won’t go to vote,” Mr. Barahona added.

Mr. Figueres has been questioned over a $900,000 consulting fee he received after his presidency from the telecommunication company Alcatel while it competed for a contract with the national electricity company. He was never charged with any crime and denied any wrongdoing.

While Costa Rica has enjoyed relative democratic stability compared with other countries in the region, the public has grown frustrated with public corruption scandals and high unemployment.

In the February vote, Mr. Alvarado’s party was practically erased from the political landscape, receiving no seats in the new congress. At the time of that vote, the country was riding a wave of COVID-19 infections, but infections and hospitalizations have fallen considerably since.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Costa Rica picks a new president. Can he restore public trust?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today