Costa Ricans today decide on a new president. There are 13 candidates to choose from. But only five have any chance of being elected.

The frontrunners are the PLN’s Johnny Araya, the Frente Amplio’s José María Villalta and the ML’s Otto Guevara.

All indications are that the election will not be decided in full today, as none of the candidates are expected to receive the 40% of the vote required, forcing the top two candidates to square off on April 6.

Scandals and inequality are issues facing Costa Ricans. The ruling party’s former San José mayor, Johnny Araya, seeks to fend off a leftist surge fueled by voter resentment over government corruption scandals and rising inequality.

But voters may be angry enough over the corruption scandals that they may move over to lawmaker Jose Maria Villalta, who also promises to tackle inequality.

On May 8, the winner in this election campaign will have to tackle growing debt that totals more than half of gross domestic product, as generous salaries and mandatory education spending weigh on a weak tax take.

“If they don’t do something, then this somewhat negative trend on the debt could continue and that could have an impact on the credit rating,” said Joydeep Mukherji, a sovereign credit analyst with Standard & Poor’s, which rates Costa Rica at BB with a stable outlook, told Reuters.

Moody’s Investor Service, which rates Costa Rica just a notch above speculative grade, cut the country’s outlook to negative from stable in September over fiscal concerns.

Villalta told Reuters on Saturday he would seek to address the problem by combating waste, tax evasion, and lightening a heavy burden on the middle class if he wins. “What we want is a progressive reform with greater tax fairness where those who have more pay more,” he said. He is the only member of his Broad Front party, formed in 2004, to serve in Congress during the 2010-14 term. But he proposed more than 100 bills, including one to strip high-level officials of immunity while in office.

Araya
has also promised to tackle the deficit by limiting public sector bonuses, creating a capital gains tax and shifting to a value added tax.

The Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN) frontrunner won praise for public art projects during his 22 years as mayor, but he has faced criticism for an autocratic style. Gaffes, like underestimating the price of milk in an interview, have distanced Araya from equality-conscious voters, while the national prosecutor’s probe of allegations of abuse of authority and embezzlement have also dampened his appeal.

 


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