Center-left candidates to face off in second round of presidential elections in Costa Rica

Figueres of the National Liberation Party obtained 27.26% of the votes, while Chaves of the Social Democratic Progress Party secured 16.70%

February 09, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Former president José María Figueres and former World Bank economist Rodrigo Chaves will face off in the second round of Costa Rica’s presidential elections on April 3. Photo: La República

The Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) of Costa Rica released on Monday February 7 the preliminary results of the general elections that were held in the country on February 6. As per the results, former president José María Figueres of the center-left National Liberation Party (PLN) and former World Bank economist Rodrigo Chaves of the center-left Social Democratic Progress Party will face off in the presidential run-off scheduled for April 3. With 88.20% of the votes counted, Figueres obtained 27.26%, while Chaves secured 16.70%.

Following the top two candidates were Fabricio Alvarado of the right-wing New Republic Party with 14.82%, Lineth Saborío of the right-wing Social Christian Unity Party with 12.36%, Eliécer Feinzaig Mintz of the far-right Progressive Liberal Party with 12.33%, and José María Villalta of the left-wing Broad Front with 8.70%. The remaining nineteen contestants received less than 1% of the votes. A record number of 25 candidates ran for the presidency.

Conservative evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado believes that the results can still be reversed, and has announced that he will not concede his defeat until the final count. Meanwhile, Figueres and Chaves have celebrated their victory, and have begun garnering support from other candidates.

“We are one step away from beginning the transformation of Costa Rica. We won this first round by a robust margin and that also gives us a huge responsibility. Tomorrow we will continue the tireless work for the final victory on April 3,” said Figueres in his victory speech.

In his speech, Chaves declared, “we are going to the second round, yes, the new party, the youngest of this campaign,” adding that, “we are going to leave behind the riots, the conflict, the sterile confrontation, and I ask you to work together to create consensus to redirect the course of the country and relaunch prosperity.

The opinion polls had predicted that a second round would be necessary since no candidate had the prospect of exceeding the threshold of 40% of the votes to win the country’s presidency in the first round. While most polls had also predicted that Figueres would win the first round, Chaves’s victory came as a surprise because he appeared in the fourth, fifth or sixth place in the opinion polls.

On the other hand, the embarrassing defeat of the ruling center-left Citizens’ Action Party with outgoing president Carlos Alvarado was no surprise. Last year, Alvarado’s government had signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to acquire a 1.78 billion USD loan. In the aftermath, the agreement implemented various neoliberal economic measures, angering the Costa Rican people. The Citizens’ Action Party candidate, Welmer Ramos, received only 0.66% of the votes. Additionally, the party lost the 10 seats it had won in 2018, leaving it without representation in the new Legislative Assembly for the first time since 2002.

Who is José María Figueres?

67-year-old José María Figueres was Costa Rica’s president from 1994 to 1998. Before serving as a president, he was foreign trade minister and agriculture and livestock minister during the first administration of President Óscar Arias (1986-1990).

He hails from a family of politicians. He is the son of José Figueres Ferrer, who took up arms and emerged victorious after the civil war of 1948, founded the Second Republic, founded the PLN, and served as the country’s president in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1970s. Following his father’s death in 1994, Figueres expressed his intention to become president. At the age of 39, he became Costa Rica’s youngest president. During his administration, he implemented a mix of progressive and neoliberal reforms.

As a part of his campaign, Figueres promises to reduce unemployment and poverty and to protect the environment by abolishing exploitation of hydrocarbons. He has also vowed to establish public-private partnerships, invest pension funds in public works, and create sustainable infrastructure.

“We want Costa Rica to win foreign direct investment again. We will be a government that supports entrepreneurs. (…) We are going to convert Costa Rich into a global energy transition leader. We will be a connected and bilingual country that opens us to opportunities and to the world,” said Figueres in his victory speech. 

Who is Rodrigo Chaves?

60-year-old Chaves worked for the World Bank for almost 20 years. He served as finance minister under outgoing President Alvarado for six months, and forged an anti-establishment reputation.

He has promised to create jobs and combat poverty, increase investments in green energy, reorganize the public services budget, and introduce a universal minimum pension.

“Costa Rica is in a bad situation, but it is not a bad country. (…) We can be the Singapore of Central America in per capita income, Estonia in efficiency of the State, Finland in public education,” he stressed in a speech.

Legislative elections

In addition to the president and two vice presidents, Sunday’s elections were also held to elect 57 deputies of the Legislative Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament.

According to the preliminary results, the National Liberation Party won 19 seats, gaining two seats; the Social Christian Unity Party won ten, gaining one seat; the Social Democratic Progress Party, which is coming to the Assembly for the first time, won nine; the New Republic Party and the Progressive Liberal Party, which are also entering the parliament for the first time, won seven and six seats, respectively; and the Broad Front (FA) also won six seats, gaining one seat.

Over 3.5 million Costa Ricans were eligible to vote, however, the elections were marked by high levels of abstentionism. According to the TSE, 40.29% of the eligible voters abstained from exercising their voting rights. The abstention rate has been the highest in general elections since 1953. The coastal provinces, Puntarenas, Limón and Guanacaste, with over 50%, 49%, and 49%, respectively, were the provinces with the highest percentages of absentees.

The new government, which will assume office on May 1 for the period 2022-2026, faces the challenge of fixing an economy struggling with high unemployment, poverty, inflation, debt, and corruption in the country. Whoever wins the election will also have to work towards narrowing the socio-economic inequalities between the country’s coastal provinces (Puntarenas, Limón and Guanacaste), and rich inland provinces (San José, Heredia, Cartago and Alajuela).