According to San José’s Tico Times, center-left presidential candidate Luís Guillermo Solís will battle ruling party candidate Johnny Araya in a runoff on April 6 after Solís surprised the nation of 3.1 million voters by taking first place in preliminary results released late Sunday night (February 2).
Solís, a 55-year-old historian and candidate from the center-left Citizen Action Party, had placed only as high as third and fourth places in recent polling. Yet, he seized 30.8% of Sunday’s vote, overtaking Araya’s 29.6%, with nearly 80% of total votes counted, according to the country’s Supreme Elections Tribunal.
Just minutes before, Araya, the 56-year-old former mayor of San José from the ruling National Liberation Party, recognized his campaign had come up short after earlier promising to capture one million votes, which would have put him over the 40% of votes needed to avoid a runoff. Araya didn’t even capture half that number.
National Liberation Party candidate Johnny Araya placed second after Luís Guillermo Solís. The two will face each other in an April runoff.
Most polls had predicted that Araya’s main challenger would be leftist candidate José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party, yet with only 17% of the votes, Villalta came in a distant third.
COMMENT: Just as surprising as Solis’ strong finish was Villalta’s lower-than-expected vote tally. The 36-year-old lawmaker had solid momentum going into Sunday’s vote, with many pollsters believing he could take Araya to a second round.
Villalta’s and Solis’ messages of fighting corruption and addressing growing social inequality resonated among many in the country, following what both Villalta and Solís have characterized as 30 years of “neoliberal” rule.
Unfortunately, the presidency of incumbent Laura Chinchilla, 54, of the Partido Liberación Nacional is a member of Socialist International, whose motto is the promotion of "progressive politics for a better world."
In 2013, the Mexican polling firm, Consulta Mitofsky, released a survey that placed Chinchilla as the LEAST popular president in all of Latin America, with a 13% approval rate, just behind President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras.
President Chinchilla’s administration is the least popular over the last 20 years, leaves behind a fiscal deficit of 5.4%, public debt that tops 50% of gap and a polarized society that has the unfortunate distinction of showing the greatest economic inequality in Latin America in 2013.
Araya unsuccessfully tried to distance himself from Chinchilla’s administration, promising to reactivate the economy and reduce poverty, which has remained at 20% for two decades, as a result of left-leaning governments.
The voter abstention rate in Sunday’s election hovered between 32-34% of 3.1 million voters, consistent with the previous two presidential elections.
Participating in the electoral campaign were thirteen presidential candidates, but just four are counted to be among the favorites – Johnny Araya, of the governing National Liberation Party; Jose Maria Villalta, of the leftist Broad Front; Luis Guillermo Solis, of the center-left Citizens Action Party; and Otto Guevara, of the rightist Libertarian Movement Party.
If none of the candidates garners more than 40% of the votes, a run-off will be held between the two top vote accumulators on April 6.
The country has been governed for two consecutive four-year terms by the National Liberation Party under Oscar Arias (from 2006 to 2010) and Chinchilla since 2010, and now it is seeking for the first time in its history to win a third consecutive mandate.