Costa Rica – The Left Likely to Win One-Horse Presidential Run-Off

Yesterday, the Costa Rican electorate went to the polls to vote in what was probably the most predictable presidential run-off election in recent times. It seems almost certain that the next president of Costa Rica will be Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC). Solís, a former academic and diplomat, capitalized on popular discontent with inequality and corruption to unexpectedly clinch the first round election in early February. His victory in the second round became almost guaranteed after his rival, Johnny Araya, of the incumbent centrist party, the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), stopped campaigning in March.

Araya, who only lost the first round election by less than one percentage point, decided to stop campaigning after a devastating poll released by the University of Costa put him over 40 points behind his rival. Within hours of the poll, Araya, struggling to finance his campaign and dogged by allegations of corruption while mayor of San Jose, publicly announced he was no longer going to contest the election.

The Costa Rican constitution however, prohibits presidential candidates from dropping out of the second round of a presidential election (they can drop out of the first round), so Araya’s name remained on the ballot, and his beleaguered party, the PLN, continued to campaign on his behalf. The legal requirement for candidates to contest the second round of presidential elections was incorporated into the 1949 constitution primarily because of irregularities during the 1913 and 1932 elections. In 1913, after all candidates withdrew their names from the contest, the national assembly choose the unelected Alfredo González Flores and who, lacking a popular mandate, was overthrown by a coup less than three years later. In 1932, following Manuel Castro’s renouncement of his second-round candidacy, Ricardo Jiménez became president after the first round with less than the required 50 per cent threshold, plunging the country into discord, which some have argued eventually led to the 1948 Civil War.[1]

This does not mean that Solís will have everything his own way. Costa Rica has a sizable debt overhang (roughly half of GDP), and Solís has promised to hold out on tax increases and increase social spending. Any legislative agenda however, will prove difficult. His party, the PAC, has only 13 of the 57 seats in Congress, and the Costa Rican president has relatively weak executive power.[2] What is more, given that many consider this election a foregone conclusion, turnout is likely to be a problem, weakening Solís’ mandate and undermining his political legitimacy.

*UPDATE: According to the Costa Rican Electoral Tribunal, with 92.6 per cent of all votes counted, Solís has won the election in a landslide victory. He  has recieved 77.85 per cent of all votes cast.  Asbtentionism was 43.29 per cent, the hightest ever registered in Costa Rica. Nontheless, Solís has some claims to political legitimacy. He recieved just over 1.3 million votes (of an electorate of 3.1 million).


[1] For more, see Steven Palmer and Iván Molina (eds.) The Costa Rica Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press.

[2] See Mainwaring and Shugart (1997). Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

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