Costa Rica Election On A Knife Edge

Costa Rica goes to the polls on Sunday (2 February) for an election that has become far too close to call. According to the New York Times, this could be Costa Rica’s most important election in a generation.

The current Costa Rican administration of the National Liberation Party has been hit by numerous scandals during its eight years in power. The country’s first female President, Laura Chinchilla (pictured above with Hillary Clinton), has squandered the domestic and international support she enjoyed upon her election in 2010, and was recently named the least popular president in Latin America with a 13% approval rate in a poll by Mexican organisation Consulta Mitofsky (in Spanish).

Chief among voters’ concerns is the perceived corruption of the administration and the general stench of sleaze around Costa Rican politics in recent years. In a scenario repeated in countless countries across the globe since the start of the recent worldwide recession, many Costa Rican voters believe the return to growth has served only to line the pockets of the wealthy while leaving the poor struggling to survive.

One of the low points of the Chinchilla administration came during the Juan Rafael Mora Porras Road fiasco of 2011. During a territorial spat with neighbors Nicaragua, the Costa Rica government decided to build a road – named after a Costa Rican war hero and former president – to help secure the disputed area. Without any form of environmental or basic civil engineering foresight, the road’s construction quickly became mired in accusations of embezzlement and graft, with the minister of public works and transportation sacked as a result.

Opinion polls have been swaying back and forth in the run-up to the election. According to AS/COA Online, the latest poll from this week suggested the voters would stick with the current ruling party, with 17.4% to second-placed candidate José María Villalta’s 14.4%. Villalta is the candidate of the Broad Front socialist party, and another poll two weeks earlier had put him ahead by two percentage points, but the Tico Times reports that Johnny Araya of the National Liberation Party remains the favourite.

According to the Costa Rican constitution, President Chinchilla is ineligible for a second consecutive term.

Costa Rica has been an economic success story, with growth of an average of 4.7 percent a year, one of the fastest rates in Latin America. With high taxation on the nation’s businesses but lower rates for large multinationals, ostensibly to promote inward investment, successive Costa Rican governments have sacrificed the good will of their own people, but it remains to be seen whether the incumbents will suffer this weekend in an election that could still go either way.