Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Costa Rica: Ruling Party Candidate Drops Out of Presidential Race After Reading Polls

According to The Associated Press, Costa Rica's governing party candidate Johnny Araya, 57, said Wednesday (March 5) that he is dropping out of the presidential runoff election and will stop campaigning because polls reveal that his rival, Luís Solis, 56, has an overwhelming lead.

The announcement appeared to guarantee victory for opposition candidate Luís Solis, who has campaigned on promises to battle corruption and to reactivate the economy in this Central American country of 4 million people.

The April 6 election will still be held and Araya will appear on the ballot largely because Costa Rica's constitution does not allow for candidates to drop out. That being said, Araya says he will no longer campaign.

Araya made the announcement after a poll published by the University of Costa Rica had Solis leading by 64% to 21%. The University questioned 1,200 likely voters by telephone from February 3-13. The survey had a margin of error of 3%.

COMMENT:  It is indeed very strange for a ruling party candidate to stop campaigning solely on the basis of polls, which can often be wrong, particularly based upon such a small sampling.

When asked, Araya said he made the decision on the basis that he doesn't want to spend any more money on his campaign.

Araya's long-governing National Liberation Party has been weighed down by corruption allegations in a country that has long been considered the most stable in Central America.

Araya, who resigned as mayor of the capital of San José last year, after 22 years in the post, couldn't overcome discontent over high unemployment during President Laura Chinchilla's government.

As I have reported previously, according to LA NACION, President Laura Chinchilla,  is the most unpopular Costa Rican president in over 20 years. Six out of ten Costa Ricans rated the president’s performance as “poor” or “very poor,” the lowest approval rating since the polling agency Unimer started collecting results in 1991. 

Only 9% of those surveyed rated the National Liberation Party (PLN) leader’s performance as “good” or “very good.”

Anyone who has opened a newspaper during the last two years can see that the president’s term has been rife with corruption scandals and general discontent.

Most recently, the president’s administration has been ensnared in a conflict-of-interest scandal involving a Chinese-funded oil refinery expansion in Moín, Limón, on the Caribbean coast, a trip to Perú owned or operated by someone with alleged ties to drug trafficking and a history of malfeasance in office. 

Chinchilla is unlikely to get any sympathy from her predecessor, President Óscar Arias. Last weekend Arias slammed her governance in a video from Repretel. Chinchilla served as Arias’ vice president and minister of justice during his most recent term in office, from 2006 to 2010.

Óscar Arias Sánchez was President of Costa Rica from 2006 to 2010. He previously served as President from 1986 to 1990 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for his efforts to end the Central American crisis.

According to a 2012 survey from the Latin American Public Opinion Project at at Vanderbilt University, Costa Ricans reported their lowest support for democracy and the political system since the group started collecting data in the 1970s.

Chinchilla ends her four-year term as president in May 2014. She will not be missed.

Interestingly, few Costa Ricans had expected Solis' centrist Citizen Action Party to even make the second round of the presidential election, in a country where politics have been dominated for three decades by only two parties: National Liberation and the Social Christian Unity party.

Solis, a 56-year-old historian and social science professor at Costa Rica University, urged Costa Ricans to come out and vote and not assume he has already won the presidency.

Solis canceled a trip to Washington after Araya's announcement, but said he will continue to visit all the communities he can, but without exceeding his  sparse budget.