No clear leader as Costa Ricans vote for new president

COSTA RICA, San Jose : Costa Rican presidential candidate for the leftist Frente Amplio party Jose Maria Villalta (C) poses with supporters on January 31, 2014 in San Jose.  AFP PHOTO / Rodrigo ARANGUA

COSTA RICA, San Jose : Costa Rican presidential candidate for the leftist Frente Amplio party Jose Maria Villalta (C) poses with supporters on January 31, 2014 in San Jose. AFP PHOTO / Rodrigo ARANGUA

SAN JOSÉ, February 2, 2014 (AFP) – Costa Ricans choose a new president today from a field of four candidates, none of whom have a clear lead in the polls and with nearly a third of voters undecided.

Some 3.1 million voters will choose a successor to President Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female president, as well as new members of congress, for a four-year term.

Long considered the “Switzerland of Central America” for its peaceful and stable democracy, Costa Ricans have endured a string of corruption scandals during Chinchilla’s presidency.

Johnny Araya, 56, mayor of the capital San Jose for more than two decades, is hoping to keep the ruling right-wing National Liberation Party (PLN) in office for a third consecutive term.

Polls however show that an upstart leftist candidate, 36 year-old Jose Maria Villalta, could bring the left to power for the first time ever in this conservative, largely Roman Catholic country.

Villalta, a legislator and environmental activist, is candidate for the leftist Broad Front (FA).

Rivals accuse Villalta, who is attracting the protest vote, of being a communist and of supporting abortion and gay marriage.

Polls however show almost equal support for two other candidates — historian Luis Guillermo Solís, 55, with the centrist Citizen Action Party (PAC), and businessman Otto Guevara, 53, with the conservative Libertarian Movement (ML).

Polls also show that 30 percent of voters are undecided, and that none of the candidates have more than 40 percent support, meaning that a runoff vote set for April 6 is likely.

And yet “it’s not possible to assert anything with certainty,” sociologist Manuel Rojas told AFP.

“There is a 75 percent possibility of a runoff vote, but there is still a margin for Araya to narrowly make it” to the 50 percent threshold, Rojas said.

Araya is being held down by his association with Chinchilla, who has led the least popular government in the past 20 years.

“Whoever wins will head a weak government,” Rojas said. “They will have to gain political legitimacy through their actions. The will not be able to govern only with their party, as has been past practice.”

Voting began at 6 am (1200 GMT) and is scheduled to end at 6 pm (0000 GMT Monday). Election officials say they expect to have the first official results two hours later.

 

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