Ex-president heads into Costa Rica run-off, ex-finance minister likely awaits | U.S. & World

By Alvaro Murillo

SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Former President Jose Maria Figueres comfortably led the preliminary vote count in Sunday’s Costa Rican presidential election, with former finance minister Rodrigo Chaves set to defy expectations of him faces in a second round.

Figueres won 27.3% of the vote based on returns from nearly three-quarters of polling stations, with economist Chaves overtaking evangelical Christian Fabricio Alvarado to carve out a second-place advantage with 16.6% of the tally .

Chaves, a former World Bank official who has earned an anti-establishment reputation since leading the finance ministry for about six months under incumbent Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado, ranked fourth in recent polls by ‘opinion.

“Chaves has a liberal economic position, is socially conservative, pro-law and against the political class,” said Rotsay Rosales, political scientist and director of the National Observatory of Policies at the University of Costa Rica.

Fabricio Alvarado, of the neo-Pentecostal New Republic party and runner-up in the 2018 elections in the Central American country, was third, garnering 15.2% support.

To win the first round, a candidate had to obtain more than 40% of the votes. The two main contenders will face each other in a second round on April 3. A total of 25 candidates were in the running in the first round.

Chaves, who in the campaign rejected accusations that he was censored for sexual harassment earlier in his career, urged Figueres to continue with dignified speech in the second round.

“I was attacked by a few, but very violently. If I made a mistake, I apologize,” he told his supporters.

Figueres, who ruled from 1994 to 1998 under the centrist National Liberation Party, had been a slight favorite heading into the first round, according to opinion polls.

The 57 seats in the National Legislative Assembly are also up for grabs. A split legislature is likely, with local media forecasting Figueres’ National Liberation Party (PLN) to win the most seats with 19, but well short of a majority.

Costa Ricans have said they want their next leader to tackle corruption and high unemployment rates over a four-year term.

The electoral tribunal said voting went well across the country and reported a preliminary turnout of around 60%.

In the capital, San José, Enrique Romero, a 52-year-old construction worker, said he would vote for Figueres.

“I want things to get better, for the government to work better,” Romero said. “The situation is critical. It’s not about going back, but moving forward and learning from the experience.”

President Carlos Alvarado, a center-left politician, cannot run for a second consecutive term.

According to opinion polls, around a third of voters in the Central American country of around 5 million people had not yet decided who to turn to before the election.

Victor Morales, a 56-year-old flag seller, was among the undecided.

“My business went down because of the bad governments we had,” Morales said. “Before, people gathered to support political parties.”

The ruling centre-left Citizen Action Party (PAC), which has been in power for two terms, received less than 1% support in the Center for Research and Policy Studies poll.

The National Assembly must, among other responsibilities, negotiate significant financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo in San Jose; Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Chris Reese, Clarence Fernandez, Gerry Doyle and Michael Perry)


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