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Friday, January 29th, 2016  |  USD: Buy 531.29 / Sell 543.92
20 years

Morris: Costa Rica headed for four-way showdown


By Kenneth Morris, ICR columnist 

With some 40 percent of Ticos telling pollsters that they’re still undecided about this Sunday’s presidential election, nobody knows who will win.  These nobodies include me.

However, I can tell you that it’s now a four-way race.

Luis Guillermo Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) is surging.  Although with polled support in the anemic five percent range Solís has been counted out, this is not what’s happening on the ground.

On the ground, center-leftists are looking for an alternative to both the centrist but perceived corrupt Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) with its establishment candidate Johnny Araya, and the far left candidate José María Villalta of the Frente Amplio (FA).

No, Ticos don’t believe the nonsense that Villalta is a communist, but the charge does compel them to consider that Villalta may be farther left than they want to go.  With Villalta throwing in campaign promises like state funding for sex change operations, he’s not calming any nerves about his extremism.

Left-leaning Ticos looking for a more moderate alternative are therefore gravitating to Solís.  Although he’s an unexciting candidate, he’s a well-respected man.  The PAC is the also the historic left-center party, making it the safe selection for those disgusted with PLN dominance but unwilling to veer right.

However, Villalta retains a good deal of support among the young and dedicated left (as well as now presumably those desiring sex change operations).  The issue is therefore how the left splits.

On the assumption that Araya is the centrist candidate and good for a minimum of 20 percent of the vote, there are only 40 percent of the votes for the leftist candidates to divide between themselves.  An even split gives Solis and Villalta only 20 percent each—and that’s if Araya only takes ten percent of the vote left of center.

The right would seem less divided.  Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario (ML) is a strong personality heading a party with an equally strong political philosophy.  Guevara captured 20 percent of the vote in the 2010 presidential election and polls about the same in this one, making it likely that he performs as well or better in this election.

Whether Guevara does better than 20 percent depends upon two factors.  One is how disgusted the right is with the PLN, the other is whether Rodolfo Piza of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC) can take more center-right votes than his four percent poll support indicates.

The right may not be disgusted with the PLN.  Corruption, the alleged cottage industry of the PLN, tends to involve businesspersons, and they are usually on the right.  The PLN has also veered right in policies like support for free trade, which endears it to those selfsame businesspersons.   Portions of the right may therefore support the PLN out of self-interest.

The center-right alternative is Piza, a seemingly decent man, but as said he’s only polling around four percent.  Should he triple his take—conceivable but probably overly optimistic—he keeps both Guevara and Araya at bay.

As for Araya, well, he’s yet to poll below 20-something percent, and about the same percentage of Ticos is as devotedly loyal to the PLN as they are to the soccer team Saprissa.  Plus, Araya comes across as presidential, and there’s some sentiment that staying the course is the safest strategy.  It’s difficult to imagine that Araya doesn’t end up toward the top of the vote heap when the dust settles.

The race is therefore definitely four-way, with each of four candidates having claim to around 20 percent apiece.  After subtracting the votes that will go to the minor parties, only around ten percent of the votes are in play.  The winners—and there will likely be two who will head into a runoff—will be decided by the margins.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d predict a runoff between Araya and Guevara, simply because the center and right are only splitting their votes between these two strong candidates, while the center and left are looking at a three-way split among Araya, Solís, and Villalta.  However, if the center-left split is lopsided, either Solís or Villalta could take Guevara’s place in the runoff—or even by some fluke Araya’s.

But this is why there are elections—as well as football games.  I suspect that the Denver Broncos will win the Super Bowl, but until the game is played, we won’t know.

Kenneth E. Morris

Kenneth E. Morris taught at various colleges and universities in the US before moving to Costa Rica in 2006, where he is now a permanent resident. His most recent book is Unfinished Revolution: Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua's Struggle for Liberation (Chicago Review Press).

The views expressed by columnists are not necessarily those of Inside Costa Rica or its staff.


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  • Timothy Williams

    Good writeup, Morris.

  • Steve Spada

    Just my opinion, but I think we need change…

  • stfree

    I missed this article when it ran but it’s fun to do the Monday quarterback thing. It’s brave to put yourself out there with predictions like Morris did. He was pretty unequivocal here and I like that. The article was logical and offered good explanations for the thought behind the predictions. I would have agreed at the time. But who can know the collective mind of the Tico when it comes to politics? And now that the games have been played, unfortunately for Ken’s predictions, Solis outstripped all expectations but not as awesomely as the Seahawks. Still, I’d like to see Morris` next round of thoughts on Solis vs. Araya.

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