Swing voters play key role in Costa Rican election runoff

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Costa Rica will hold a second round of presidential elections this Sunday, April 3. Former President Jose Maria Figueres, of the historic National Liberation Party (PLN), and former Finance Minister Rodrigo Chaves, of the recently formed Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD), will face each other. And four days before the polls, accusations of corruption, sleazy management of campaign funding and allegations of sexual harassment have distracted from the candidates’ proposals.

Figueres, president of the country between 1994 and 1998; and economist Chaves won in the first round on February 6, in elections where more than 40% of Costa Ricans stayed at home and the former president won 27.3% of the vote against 16.7% for the economist.

The second round comes as the latest poll by the Center for Research in Political Studies (CIEP) of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), carried out between March 24 and 28, shows that candidate Rodrigo Chaves is still in the lead with 41.4% of the votes. people who intend to vote, while his rival, Jose María Figueres, trails by 3.4 points with 38%.

Pollsters say the survey’s margin of error is 3.1 points.

With these figures, it is difficult to predict which of the candidates will obtain the simple majority of the votes necessary to win the presidency in the elections this Sunday, April 3.

“There are no significant differences between the candidates, either of the two could be in the lead at the moment, it is not known by how much, but yes the forces are very balanced at the moment”, commented the CIEP survey coordinator Ronald Alfaro at Semanario Universidad.

Meanwhile, the percentage undecided continues to rise, from 16.5% in last week’s survey to 18.1% this week in which 1,019 people were interviewed by phone.

More than 3.5 million Costa Ricans are called to the polls this Sunday to choose the president who will govern the country between 2022 and 2026. In the electoral register, there are also some 40,000 Nicaraguans with Costa Rican nationality who can participate in the elections, although that in reality the presence and size of the Nicaraguan population in Costa Rica is much larger, with at least 350,000 Nicaraguans residing in Costa Rica.

The migration issue remains absent

The issue of migration has been absent from presidential debates and in government plans there are only brief references to the subject.

On the one hand, Figueres assures in its government plan that migration must be considered “as a global issue, which includes human rights and the economic recovery of the country”. Meanwhile, Chaves said in February he would give a “benefit” to Nicaraguan migrants to legalize their status, without specifying what that benefit would be.

José Maria Figueres, National Liberation Party candidate, at the last campaign rally in San José, Costa Rica // Photo: EFE.

The former president is the only one to directly mention the government of Nicaragua. He assures that he will propose “mandatory, appropriate and necessary regulations on migration and labor, as well as remittances abroad, such as those that already exist, for example, in Mercosur and in the European Union. “.

Figueres offers to provide more resources to the Directorate of Migration and Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica – the entity in charge of all migratory regularization procedures – and assures that it will facilitate the legalization of migrant workers in order to integrate them as as tax and public health contributors and to “protect their basic labor, health and other rights”. It is a vision of a corresponding country, he says, “without xenophobia”.

In foreign policy, Figueres proposes to maintain the defense and promotion of the democratic system and human rights, in accordance with the Costa Rican diplomatic tradition. “I do not want to remain indifferent to the arrests of opposition leaders by the government of Nicaragua. Costa Rica must activate its diplomacy to defend democracy. Those detained must be released and guarantees must be given for a free electoral process”, he posted on Twitter in June 2021, during a hunt for opponents launched by the Ortega regime ahead of the elections of 7 November, of which Ortega declared himself the winner. without competition or minimum democratic guarantees.

Chaves, although he does not include any section on migration or foreign policy in his government plan, answered a few questions sent by Confidencial last February.

He assured that he would give “an advantage” to the immigration of Nicaraguans so that they could legalize their status, without specifying what this advantage would be.

As for his opinion on Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, he regretted that the Nicaraguan people could not elect their rulers in a democracy, without manipulation.

If he becomes president, Chaves assured that he will seek “an attitude of respect with the Nicaraguan people, even if we recognize that the regime that leads them was not democratically elected”. In addition, he assures that he will maintain Costa Rica’s support in the international forum for Nicaragua’s return to democracy.

Keeping an eye on Nicaragua

Moreover, the current President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado, admitted this week – in an interview with the EFE news agency – that his country and Nicaragua only have state relations, because “there is differences in fundamental conceptions of what a democratic country should be”. .”

“Certainly, in Nicaragua there is a deterioration of democracy, it does not live in it. And the international community must support and sponsor that the Nicaraguans themselves reach a solution so that the democratic path can resume, but the risk is in the whole region,” said Alvarado.

However, the Costa Rican president considered that a minimum consensus must be reached on issues such as climate change or financing for development: “this concerns all of us, regardless of politics. If we reach a minimum consensus, we can move forward with a regional voice that I believe has been absent,” he added.

Regarding relations with other neighboring countries, Alvarado highlighted the good relations that Costa Rica has with Panama and the Dominican Republic, countries with which his country has formed an alliance for development in democracy, “a mechanism between like-minded countries that believe in sustainable development. and economic development,” he continued.

Accusations of shady business and sexual harassment

After the conclusion of the first round on February 6, Figueres and Chaves traded allegations and accusations, resulting in both candidates having to put out fires over controversies over their campaign finances.

Rodrigo Chaves, candidate for the Social Democratic Progress Party, at his final campaign rally in San José, Costa Rica. // Photo: EFE.

Chaves had to explain the origin and operation of a trust of some $135,000 which he operated between February and September 2021 and which, according to local media publications, was used to pay for political campaign expenses , which would be illegal.

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal is investigating the issue, while Chaves of the Social Democratic Progress Party described the news reports as a “smokescreen” over trust and the possibility of a parallel funding structure.

For his part, Figueres, of the National Liberation Party, had to explain a trip he made to the Dominican Republic at the beginning of March, where he met the president of that country, Luis Abinader, other government officials and businessmen.

The candidate explained that the expenses of his stay in the Dominican Republic were his responsibility and that the trip by private plane was an in-kind donation from the campaign of businessman Alberto Esquivel Volio.

The latest controversy that has arisen in the campaign has been caused by a series of videos against Chaves. One alludes to allegations of pedophilia and another shows people throwing themselves from a building alluding to Figueres’ frequent phrase that voting for Chaves is “a leap into the void”.

The local and American media also reported during this political campaign the complaints of sexual harassment lodged against Chaves by workers of the World Bank, while he was an official of this entity in the United States.

The past of former President Figueres was also the subject of the campaign, as in 2004 the prosecution investigated a consulting firm provided by the French company Alcatel, which won public telecommunications contracts in Costa Rica.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidential and translated by Havana Times

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