Tuesday 22 June 2021

A Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Shakes up Costa Rica’s Election

Latin America’s oldest democracy is not immune from the region’s discontents

The Economist – A “SLICE of Iowa misplaced on the Central American isthmus”, is how an American political scientist once characterised Costa Rica. He meant it as a compliment. Costa Rica is orderly, relatively rich, and has been a democracy since 1949.

Fabricio Alvarado

But Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, are feeling disgruntled. Their sour mood is shaping elections to be held on February 4th. None of the five leading presidential candidates has the support of more than 20% of the electorate, according to the (unreliable) polls. Two are anti-establishment. For the first time in Costa Rica’s democratic history, such flame-throwers could win.

- Advertisement -

A ruling on January 9th by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights seems to oblige Costa Rica to let same-sex couples marry. That angered its conservative electorate (see article). But it is not the only cause of discontent. The unemployment rate is 9.4% and income inequality is rising. The murder rate—12.1 per 100,000 people last year—is low by regional standards but higher than it used to be. A scandal involving the import of Chinese cement by a businessman with ties to the president, Luis Guillermo Solís, has contributed to voters’ anger.

Ticos now look enviously upon the two countries that bracket Costa Rica: Panama, which is richer, and Nicaragua, which is safer. Life was better 30 years ago in some ways, admits Rodolfo Piza, the candidate of the Social Christian Unity Party, one of two parties that held the presidency until 2014 (he is in fifth place). “You could walk the streets without fear. There was more equality. There was less unemployment.”

Politics is not providing answers. The 57-seat legislature has nine parties, many of them dedicated to one issue. Its rules, written for a two-party system, allow one deputy to filibuster a law. It takes nearly three years on average for Costa Rica to pass one. That is slower than in any member of the OECD, a rich-country club that Costa Rica has applied to join.

Gridlock has weakened support for democracy. It dropped from 80% of the population in 1996 to 62% last year, according to Latinobarómetro, a pollster (though that is a slight recovery from its low in 2013).

- Advertisement -

For now, dissatisfaction is showing up as support for unconventional candidates. Fabricio Alvarado, a deputy who was a journalist and an Evangelical Christian crooner, jumped from 3% to around 20% in the polls after he made opposition to the gay-marriage opinion his main campaign issue. That makes him the front-runner. His supporters “want to give the finger to the system”, as well as to gay marriage, says a bewildered veteran politician. In fourth place is Juan Diego Castro, a Trumpian candidate who claims that “traditional” parties are buying addicts’ votes with drugs and cash. Mr Castro has zeroed in on real problems, such as expensive electricity, burdensome bureaucracy and corruption. But his answers are facile. His “very easy” solution to overcrowding in prisons is to force inmates to build more of them.

The strongest hope for avoiding a lurch towards looniness lies with Antonio Álvarez, the nominee of the Party of National Liberation, the other establishment party. He portrays himself as the heir of Óscar Arias, a president of the 1980s and early 2000s who won a Nobel peace prize for helping to end civil wars in other Central American countries. But voters are less impressed with such pedigrees than they would once have been. Mr Álvarez is running second in the polls, with the support of 10-15% of the electorate. Carlos Alvarado (no relation to Fabricio), a confidant of the current president, is just behind him.

The mainstream candidates have more to say than the outsiders about the most pressing problem, the budget deficit, which was 6% of GDP last year. Spending on government salaries, pushed up by pay rises and more hiring, consumes 48% of revenues, more than in any OECD country. The next president will have to cut back. Mr Álvarez promises to reform public salaries and to introduce a value-added tax.

If one of the establishment candidates makes it to the second round, he will probably beat either the pulpit-thumping Fabricio Alvarado or the Trumpesque Mr Castro. That is the best chance to keep Costa Rica Iowa-like.

This article appeared in the The Americas section of the print edition under the headline “Like Iowa, with lots of beefs”
QCostarica.com was not involved in the creation of the content. This article was originally published on The Economist. Read the original article.

- Advertisement -

FACT CHECK:
We strive for accuracy in its reports. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, send us an email. The Q reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it’s accuracy.

Q Costa Rica
Reports by QCR staff

Related Articles

Meet the women who would run for president in 2022

HQ - One year from the national elections, at least four...

Plan to cut second round in presidential election fails

If you feel that political campaigns in Costa Rica and long...

MOST READ

Fifth tropical wave precipitation will be heavier in the north of the country

QCOSTARICA - For this Wednesday, the arrival of the fifth tropical wave of the season is expected, thus reinforcing the rainy activity mainly to...

American woman found lifeless in hotel bathroom in Sabana

QCOSTARICA - A sad discovery occurred this Thursday morning in a hotel located in La Sabana, in San José, the lifeless body of a...

13 Powerful Home Remedies for Acne

Acne is considered to be one of the most common skin ailments on the planet, with a record 60 million people being afflicted by...

Today’s Vehicle Restriction June 16: 5 & 6 CANNOT circulate

Today, Wednesday, June 16, vehicles with plates ending 5 & 6 CANNOT circulate The measure is countrywide and applied between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm,...

Vaccination commission endorses J & J vaccine, says no to Sinovac

QCOSTARICA - The Comisión Nacional de Vacunación y Epidemiología (CNVE)  - National Vaccination and Epidemiology Commission - endorsed the use of Johnson and Johnson...

The Best Sports To Play On A Beach

Costa Rica has some of the best beaches in the world. The coastline is blessed with golden sand, beautiful palm trees, and perfect blue...

Treasury threatens to close doors to Sinpe Móvil to avoid tax evasion

QCOSTARICA - What had been a good tool as a payment mechanism for sellers and businesses, the Ministry of Finance (Treasury) has in its...

Companies covered up defective asphalt

QCOSTARICA - The judicial file of the Cochinilla Case, on alleged corruption in road works, exposes how three companies would have covered up the...

Today’s Vehicle Restriction June 20: only “EVENS” can circulate

Today, Sunday, June 20, only vehicles with "EVEN" ending plates CAN circulate The measure is countrywide and applied between 5:00 am and 9:00 pm, save...

WANT TO STAY UP TO DATE WITH THE LATEST!

Get our daily newsletter with the latest posts directly in your mailbox. Click on the subscribe and fill out the form. It's that simple!

Log In

Forgot password?

Forgot password?

Enter your account data and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Your password reset link appears to be invalid or expired.

Log in

Privacy Policy

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.