Presidential candidate Luis Guillermo Solís stands alone for the presidency of Costa Rica. Since March 5, his only opponent, Johnny Araya, withdrew from the campaign paving the way for the first Partido Accion Cuidadana (PAC) win.
But, like many things in Costa Rica, not all is what is seems. Or should be.
The real challenge for Solís and the PAC in tomorrow’s run-off election is voter abstention. Will Costa Ricans get out to vote?
Another concern by Solís and the PAC is the number of voters who will turn out to vote for Araya, really not voting for Araya but against the PAC. Despite bowing out of the campaigning, Costa Rica’s election rules do not permit a presidential candidate to resign. So, Araya’s name is on the Sunday ballot, Costa Ricans can vote for him and he can be elected president.
Solís, who trailed during most of the election campaign, obtained 30% of the popular vote, 1% over Araya, in the February 2 elections. Election rules require a candidate to obtain at least 40% of the popular vote to be declared a winner.
Another challenge for Solís is the legitimacy of his presidency if is not able to obtain a decent percentage of the votes on Sunday. Although he will be elected president, “if he gets less votes that what he got in the first round, he won’t have political legitimacy even if legally he is president,” said Francisco Barahona, a political science professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR).
If elected, Solís then faces the challenges of the Legislative Assembly, where his party only hold 13 of the 57 seats. The majority is held by the Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN), Araya’s party.
Solís has vowed a more activist government that focuses on building up small and medium-sized local businesses while strengthening social and environmental programs in a country long considered the most stable in Central America. And while the PAC is opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement, Solis said he won’t try to pull out of the deal, but will manage it better.
The son of a shoemaker turned small businessman, Solis studied history at the University of Costa Rica and obtained a master’s degree in Latin American studies at Tulane University in the United States. He also has taught at Florida International University and at the University of Michigan.
In Costa Rica, he taught at local universities and worked in the country’s Foreign Ministry at the time when President Oscar Arias (PLN party) was helping mediate an end to Central America’s civil wars. He later served as an ambassador and as secretary general of the PLN party.
Solis quit the PLN party in 2005, complaining of corruption, and went back into teaching. He joined PAC only in 2009.
Few had expected Solis to even make the second round of the presidential election, in a country where politics have been dominated for three decades by only two parties, National Liberation and the Social Christian Unity party.