Monday, February 08, 2010

Costa Rica Elects First Woman President

To follow up on yesterday's post, Costa Rica has in fact elected its first woman president. Laura Chinchilla finished with 48.1% of the vote, well above the minimum 40% needed to avoid a runoff. Otton Solis of the PAC finished in second with 25.1%, while Otto Guevara, who some analysts suggested might finish second due to a late surge, finished with 20.9%. Chinchilla's relatively overwhelming victory is somewhat surprising; Abel Pacheco of the PSUC was forced into a run-off in 2002, and in 2006, though Oscar Arias avoided a runoff, he barely won, getting 40.9% of the vote to Solis's 39.8%.

Looking at the previous election, Guevara may be encouraged with his result, as he jumped from 8.5% in 2006 to 20.9% this year. On the flipside, Solis very well may be discouraged, as he dropped nearly 15% in the popular vote with a total drop in votes of almost 200,000 between 2006 and 2010. What is more, this election may have served as a notice that Solis's policies aren't as popular as they once were or that he's simply not quite charismatic enough anymore to win.

As for why Chinchilla was elected, there are probably a variety of factors at play. Certainly, Chinchilla's political skill played a role in her election, and her role as Arias's vice-president and Minister of Justice clearly gave her a high level of visibility and experience. While I never heard her speak, she may have been charismatic, too. Additionally, she may have garnered some of the vote due to a mobilized base that rallied around her identity as a woman. Finally, one can point to the relative economic and political stability Costa Rica has continued to display under Arias, even as other countries in the region have suffered politically and economically. Certainly, Arias's free trade agreements have angered some, but Solis seems to have pinned his hopes on anti-free trade sentiment and a need for "change," and neither apparently mattered to a near majority of the Costa Rican electorate this year. I suspect (though future studies will determine this) that the potential for continued stability played a major role in this year's election, as Chinchilla promised to continue Arias's economic policies.

From here, it will be interesting to see how Chinchilla governs. Some groups have expressed legitimate concerns on her stances on homosexuality and abortion; even if comments and actions she made with regards to these issues during the campaign were political moves, it opens her up to charges of pandering to baser social and political groups in Costa Rican politics. Additionally, if she is unable to keep Costa Rica's economic and political stability going, she will be open to attacks from both Solis's more progressive PAC and Guevara's libertarianism. As president of a party in the center-left (falling very closely to the center), she'll have politicians on either side of her ready to pounce from the left if she makes any errors in economic or social policy. Additionally, where Solis and his PAC (which has been successful in congressional elections) go from here will be worth watching, as will Guevara's efforts to continue to expand his libertarian appeal.