Polls and financing did him in!
In a surprise announcement former ministro de la Presidencia, Rodrigo Arias, told his audience gathered at the nomination campaign offices in Los Anonos, he WILL NOT be seeking the party leadership nomination in March.
The announcement surprised everyone inside and outside of the Partido Liberacaion National (PLN).
Rumours had been flying in the last couple of days, getting stronger on Friday, of a major announcement by Rodrigo – younger brother to two-time president and Nobel Peace prize winner, Oscar. However, most were left with their mouths open when Rodrigo threw in the towel.
There was mixed reaction to the announcement. PLN legislator, Victor Hugo Víquez, was one to say he regretted the Arias decision. “The polls favoured another candidate (Johnny Araya), so it did not make sense to continue with this fight”, said the legislator.
Mario Alvarez, a friend and partner, said that the voice of older brother influenced the decision.
Brother Oscar last month said that come January the polls would turn to Rodrigo’s favour. Oscar said that the popularity of long time mayor Araya in December was due to the mayor’s visibility in the series of holiday events in San José, like the Festival de la Luz and the Zapote Fair.
At the Festival de la Luz, Araya took centre stage in an unprecedented move by leading the parade through the downtown San José streets, looking very presidential.
In that line of thought, Rodrigo Arias accused mayor and neighbour Araya of dirty politics, of using municipal events (and thus at municipal expenss) to further his nomination campaign.
Arias came out in his presidential aspirations way back in 2010, weeks after his brother’s second term ended. Back then he quickly cooled his jets after being accused of undermining the new president, Laura Chinchilla.
And though he was quiet in the public front, rumours of an active behind the scenes campaign were confirmed when last year Arias came out in public in series of television commercials that were to demonstrate his civic duty, but in fact was to clean up his image for the 2014 race.
The commercials, however, did not do much for him. The average Costa Rican did not seem him as “presidential” material. He social media ridiculed Arias, mocking his commercials. In the end though, the polls did the talking.
In June this year, Arias and Araya were neck-to-neck in the polls. However, the entry of possible contender José Maria Figueres Olsen, set Arias back. In October, Arias drew a 6% favour (same as Figueres) to Araya’s 16% in a Unimer poll for La Nacíon.
In November, Figueres announced that he would not seek the nomination. But Arias’ standing in the polls did not get better.
Another factor leading to the Arias decision to step down was financial. “I felt I did not have the economic strength to a process that would require much economic effort”, Arias told the press.
An estimate is that the nomination campaign, if he continued, would set back Arias some US$1.3 million dollars, though no mention was made of how much had already been spent.
A Good Gift for New Year
For his part, Johnny Araya told the press Friday night that he was surprised, but accepts the decision. The San José mayor said he would be changing his approach in light of the surprise resignation of his biggest rival, acknowledging that he now has less obstacles on the road to the party nomination, but nothing has been decided yet.
Rumours have been flying since the Arias resignation that Berrocal would also throw in the towel, paving the way for an Araya coronation. Berrocal, who has not gotten higher than 2% in the polls, told the press that his ideology is close to that of Araya.
As to enlisting Arias’ support, Araya said that he will be asking all “libericionistas”(Liberationists) without exception for their support, that would include also the 16 PLN legislators who have backed Rodrigo.
Araya told La Nacion that, though he does not feel anointed as presidential candidate, there is no doubt that (the resignation of Arias) paves the way for his candidacy.
Now that Arias is out, what of “loyal” Arias supporters like Maria Luisa Avila? Will she and others now join Araya in his bid for the presidential chair?
Flying in the wings, however, is the possibility of a Figueres run at the presidency. Although he has said no on many occasions, did not put his name in the ring for the PLN leadership, he has been working on a plan for Costa Rica. The question is, will he wait to 2018 or run an independent in 2014?
Everyone knows Figueres. His father’s mug shot is on one of the most popular bills, the ¢10.000 colones. And José junior is the spitting image of José senior. What better campaign promotion than one you don’t even have to pay for!