By Vicki Barnes
As recovering political addicts, Steve and I have been making a real effort to stay away from politics at home. We have made donations to candidates in whom we believe, but we haven’t been active in any campaigns.
When we arrived in Costa Rica, we began watching the news of the elections here and have been trying to understand the differences between the candidates, the whole election process and the party platforms.
While there are 13 candidates for president, representing the baker’s dozen of political parties, most of the media attention is focused on the top five candidates as it is not expected that the other parties will get many votes. The most recent polls show the leading vote getter if the election were held today (the election is, in reality, on Sunday, “Undecided” has the majority of support.
Of the presidential candidates, Johnny Araya – representing the National Liberation Party, the party of the current president, Laura Chinchilla – is tops in the poll just released by Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Policy Studies. More than 20 percent of the people say they support him.Bumper stickers that simply say “Johnny” are everywhere, the green and white flags of the Liberation Party are on a lot of houses and cars and his commercials are seen during soccer games across the country.
So, it is likely that Johnny Araya will be the next president.
But what about the 57 representatives to the national legislature?
We talked to Johnny Leiva, 37, who would like to be a representative from the Guanacaste province. He was in his campaign office in Liberia working with his volunteers to make sure supporters have rides to the polls in this mostly rural district. (We talked to Leiva not because we support him, but because his office was open when we walked by.)
Legislative candidates run on the party ticket. Each party in this province can put up four candidates for the legislature. Other, more populated areas have more representatives in the national legislature. Based on the amount of votes the presidential candidate gets, representatives from that party will be sent to the legislature in a proportional number.
Leiva’s Social Christian Unity party is not likely to get a lot of votes, he said. The latest poll shows presidential candidate Rodolfo Piza with about 3.1 percent support.
“We are working now to open the road for 2018,” Leiva said.
Piza was a last minute entry into the presidential race. The former head of the country’s social security system, he only got into the race within the last few months after Rodolfo Hernandez, who defeated Piza in the primary last May dropped out of the race on Oct. 3, citing differences with the party leadership. On Oct. 9, he said he was reentering the race, but dropped out again later that day.
The leading candidate for president, Araya, is the former mayor of San Jose, the capitol city. Opponents say he was an ineffectual leader at the city level and will continue in the footsteps of Chinchilla. He has made many statements trying to distance himself from the current president while battling allegations tying him to various allegations of corruption.
The closest competition for Araya are Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front Party with about 15 percent support. The 36 year old lawmaker rose from being a rowdy sign-waving protestor a decade ago to a legislator not afraid to speak his mind to a presidential candidate who has brought his youth-driven liberal party up the ladder with him.
The other candidates range from a conservative evangelical pastor/lawmaker (Carlos Luis Avendaño of the National Restoration Party) to the Workers Party’s Hector Enrique Monestel Herrera, who looks a little like a cartoon of what one would expect a 57 year old bookworm communist to look like.
Laiva said he has found that politics in Costa Rica and in the US, where he studied in both Boston and Washington, DC. are different in one important way: in Costa Rica, only individual Costa Rican persons (not corporations or groups) can donate to a political campaigns.
And in one way they are the same: people think of elections “as a piñata”: they want to get something in return for their vote.
If Leiva does not win a seat in the legislature, he said, he will return to his business as a developer in Guanacaste, one of the fastest growing tourist areas in the country.