Costa Rican voters went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and to renew the members of its 57 seat Legislative Assembly. The election was widely anticipated, as it was preceded by a wild electoral campaign and a new multi-partisan political climate.
However, before analyzing the election itself, one must have a fair background on Costa Rica’s politics. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, Costa Rican politics were dominated by two parties, the National Liberation Party, or PLN, which had originated under social democratic ideals but slowly shifted to the center and right as time went by, and the Social Christian Unity Party, or PUSC, which adhered to liberal conservatism and Christian democratic values. These parties were dominant for decades, and every president from 1948 to 2014 belonged to either one of these parties.
Since the late 1990s, Costa Rica’s two-party system began to slowly deteriorate, and parties from both the left and right arose, such as the center-left Citizen’s Action Party (PAC), the right-wing Libertarian Movement (ML), and the leftist Broad Front (FA). In 2002, these garnered enough votes to force a runoff in the presidential race for the first time in the country’s history, and in 2006 the PAC actually came in second, although it was narrowly defeated by the PLN’s Oscar Arias in what came to be the tightest race in Costa Rican presidential politics. The PUSC lost lots of popular support during these years, as its leaders were embattled with corruption accusations involving the Costa Rican Social Security Fund. In 2014, the country’s two party system officially came to an end, as voters elected incumbent president Luis Guillermo Solis, from the PAC, into office after the PLN candidate promptly withdrew from the runoff, blaming his unlikely odds at winning the race.
Costa Rica’s 2018 electoral campaign became one of the most confusing and at the same time most memorable that the country had ever seen. Polling since 2017 failed to signal a favorite, and the record number of undecided voters guaranteed a volatile campaign period. In addition, the Costa Rican government was hit with a massive corruption scandal, known as the “Cementazo”, in which several political leaders and government officials were tied to a businessman who was lent $31.5 million by a state bank under anomalous and atypical conditions.
The country also has to deal with a high public debt, a large government deficit, and an immense political deadlock. These issues were thrown to the side in January, as the campaign drew to an end, when an international court ruling mandated that same sex marriage be recognized as legal within Costa Rica. This sparked massive outcry from the country’s Christian population, throwing the race into greater turmoil. Due to this, Fabricio Alvarado, a candidate from a minuscule Christian party, the National Restoration Party (PRN) surged in the polls after he announced that under his presidency Costa Rica would withdraw from the IDH to escape the ruling’s effects. He quickly rose to first place, pushing more traditional candidates aside and setting a five way statistical tie. Therefore, Costa Ricans went to the polls yesterday, only certain that their votes would force a second round in the presidential race and a heavily divided Legislative Assembly.
Once the votes were tallied, Costa Ricans voted for a change. Alvarado finished first with 25% of the vote, followed by PAC’s candidate, Carlos Alvarado with 21%. PLN suffered a huge debacle, and achieved the worst result in the party’s history, finishing in third place for the first time ever. Antonio Álvarez Desanti, the Liberationist candidate only got 19% of the vote. He was followed by PUSC’s Rodolfo Piza, who provided the party with its best result since 2002 with 16% of the total vote. They are followed by Juan Diego Castro, who was dubbed as the Costa Rican Trump with 9%, Rodolfo Hernández with 5%, and seven other candidates who barely managed to get to 1% of the valid votes. This means that both Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado will advance to the April runoff, and succeed Luis Guillermo Solis as president until 2022.
In the Legislative elections, the country elected its most divided congress yet, with no party obtaining a significant number of seats. According to the latest projections, the PLN will have the largest parliamentary caucus, with 17 seats, followed by the PRN’s 14, PAC’s 10, and PUSC’s 9. The National Integration Party is projected to have four seats, the Social Christian Republican Party two, and the Broad Front 1.