Costa Rican Presidential Election to be decided in Run-off

Early results from Costa Rica’s presidential election on Sunday indicate that a second round run-off election, to be held on April 6, is now inevitable.

With 82 per cent of all votes counted, Luis Guillermo Solís, of the centre-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), has 30.9 per cent of the votes, while Johnny Araya of the incumbent centrist party, the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), has 29.6 per cent and José María Villalta, of the left-leaning Frente Amplio, has 17.2 per cent. Given it appears highly unlikely that any of the three leading candidates will garner the 40 per cent of votes needed for an outright victory, a run-off election is now unavoidable.

Luis Solís’ surge in votes is somewhat unexpected, given that polls immediately before the election suggested that Johnny Araya was the front-runner. Araya, former mayor of San Jose and the candidate of the current incumbent, Laura Chinchilla (who was constitutionally prohibited from running for a consecutive second term), had tried hard to distance himself from the beleaguered Chinchilla, whose government had been beset by a series of corruption scandals. However, an investigation into embezzlement while mayor of San Jose suggested to voters that he represented more of the same, and his popularity was further eroded by a number of gaffes throughout the course of the campaign. For example, during an interview he was unable to provide the correct price for milk.

Luis Solís, an academic, former official of the foreign ministry and advisor to Oscar Arias, ran on an anti-corruption platform, which saw him launch frequent broadsides at the Chinchilla government, the PLN and Johnny Araya. Solís was previously a member of the PLN but in 2005, critical of party irregularities and repeated corruption scandals, he left the party. In 2009, he joined the PAC. A second round run-off should suit Solís, as he should be more likely than Araya to pick up the votes of José Villalta, the other left-leaning candidate.

Thirteen candidates took part in this presidential election, a clear indication of the increasing fragmentation and weakening of the Costa Rican party system, which began to splinter following the introduction of economic reforms under the PLN in the 1990s.[1] Whoever wins the second round run-off will have some difficulties in governing, given the relative legislative weakness of the executive office,[2] and the current multi-party system.[3] The collapse of Latin American party systems, and the subsequent implications for governance, has become a frequent theme for this blog. Watch this space on April 6th.

[1] See Roberts (2013). Market Reform, Programmatic (De)alignment, and Party System Stability in Latin America. Comparative Political Studies, 46: 1422-1452.

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

[3] On Sunday, Costa Rica also elected 57 legislators.

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