Sunday, February 07, 2010

Will Costa Rica to Elect Its First Woman President?

Today, Costa Ricans will go to the polls to elect their next president, and Laura Chinchilla, the candidate for the Partido Libertación (the same party that current-president Oscar Arias represents), stands a decent chance of winning and becoming Costa Rica's first female president.

The Libertación is a center-left (closer to the center) party, and it seems that Chinchilla's fiercest opposition is coming from libertarian Otto Guevara, with Otton Solis of the of the Partido Acción Ciudadana running third. Chinchilla has been running on a platform of "stability," promising to continue Arias's economic policies (including free-trade agreements). Guevara has challenged her by promising to be tough on crime in Costa Rica, an amusing promise from a libertarian who wants a more hands-off approach.

I always enjoy seeing how political failures affect politicians in countries outside of the U.S., and Costa Rica is no exception. Both Guevara and Solis first ran for president when I was in Costa Rica in 2002, forming their own parties for the election and finishing fourth and third (out of 13 candidates), respectively. I'm always pleased to see that, unlike in the U.S., failure in a presidential campaign doesn't bring an end to your presidential aspirations in other countries, and Costa Rica is probably the case I'm most familiar with. Looking at their political positions today, Guevara's appeal makes some sense - there will always be people who identify strongly with libertarians, and with the PUSC's popularity dropping in the wake of corruption scandals, Guevara and his Partido Movimento Libertário offer the strongest alternative for conservative voters.

I'm more surprised at Solis's performance in this campaign, however; when he burst on the scene in 2002, it was as offering a strong third-party alternative to the dominant Libertación and the Partido Unidad Social Cristiano. Solis has been critical of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, and offered a progressive alternative to those (especially young) voters tired of the institutionality of Libertación. I'm not so surprised that the party itself is still around, but it will be curious to see what happens to Solis's political future after tomorrow. While he had a strong showing in 2002 and nearly won the election in 2006, if he finishes third tomorrow, one can't help but think that he'll really have to overhaul his message to appeal to people. And much of this is speculation, too, until the Ticos vote and the results are tallied. In effect, though, they're voting on whether they want to continue down the center-ish path that Arias has forged, whether they want a shift to the right in the name of "fighting crime," or whether they want a progressive alternative to the institutional Libertación party. It will be interesting to watch.