Is staid Costa Rica headed for an unpredictable vote?

A leftist candidate is making strides in investment-friendly, centrist Costa Rica in the lead up to this weekend's presidential election.

Juan Carlos Ulate/REUTERS
Jose Maria Villalta, presidential candidate of the leftist Broad Front Party, gives a thumbs up to his supporters after a walk in Tres Rios January 29, 2014.

Costa Rica, a traditionally center-right nation, is witnessing the rapid rise of a leftist candidate in the run-up to national elections on Sunday. The country has long attracted investment beyond its neighbors in Central America due to its strong US ties and political stability. Those strengths are not in peril, but the political landscape has grown less predictable of late and the left’s standard bearer is talking of renegotiating parts of the 2004 Central America Free Trade Agreement with the United States.

José María Villalta, from the left-leaning Broad Front Party, “really popped in the polls in December and took a lot of people by surprise that he could have that strong of a following. Costa Rica traditionally is a fairly conservative country and it’s never really had a strong left-leaning political presence,” says our correspondent in San José.

For decades, Costa Rica had a centrist two-party system. A bribery scandal in the previous decade felled one of the two parties. Still standing was the National Liberation Party (PLN), which currently holds the reins of power and follows a neo-liberal economic policy. The PLN candidate, Johnny Araya, is a longtime mayor of San José and the putative front-runner.

But new, more ideological parties have risen up as challengers, making this election a multiparty nail-biter that includes a serious challenge by the left as well as a libertarian candidate.

“The election really is about people who are breaking away from traditional political parties here. And so that electorate has either cut right or they’ve cut left,” our correspondent says.

Polls suggest a close race and a strong possibility that no candidate will cross the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid an April 6 runoff.

Mr. Villalta has promised to tackle income inequality by raising the minimum wage and reenergizing small-scale farms.... For the rest of the story, continue reading at our new business publication Monitor Frontier Markets.

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