Costa Ricans will vote on Feb. 4 to elect lawmakers and a new president — or more likely, to elect the presidential candidates who will make it to the runoff scheduled for April 1.
According to a recent poll by the University of Costa Rica, however, 36.5 percent of Costa Ricans who said they will vote have not yet decided who to vote for.
Thirteen candidates share the ballot. So far, none have secured the 40 percent required to be elected in the first round of voting. In fact, none have reached 20 percent of the intended vote. This would be Costa Rica’s third runoff since 1949. The University of Costa Rica poll also revealed that many voters have withdrawn their support for the candidate they initially intended to vote for.
Fabricio Alvarado, a representative of the Evangelical National Restoration party, is an evangelical preacher and has been a legislator since 2014. His was a low-profile candidacy until the Inter American Court of Human Rights ruled on Jan. 9 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Alvarado is the only representative in Congress of the evangelical party, founded in 2005, and has upheld a conservative agenda on women’s reproductive rights, in vitro fertilization and same-sex marriage.
Most candidates were vocal in their rejection of the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but Alvarado claimed he would withdraw Costa Rica from the international body. Since then, Alvarado jumped from five to 16.9 percent, according to the most recent poll.
Only two of the 13 candidates support same-sex marriage: Carlos Alvarado and Edgardo Araya. Alvarado was not expected to make it to the runoffs, but he is currently in third place with 10.6 percent of the vote. Alvarado belongs to the social democratic Citizen’s Actions Party currently in power.
In second place is former legislator and cabinet minister Antonio Alvarez Desanti of the National Liberation Party. Alvarez currently enjoys 12.4 percent of support. His party has won nine of Costa Rica's 16 national elections and is currently the main opposition party in the country’s legislative branch.
Security and Justice Minister Juan Diego Castro, a member of the small conservative National Integration Party, has experience a drop in the latest polls, placing him fourth with 8.6 percent of the vote. Castro is renowned for his promise to stamp out corruption and has been compared to U.S. President Donald Trump for his right-wing populist style.
In fifth place is Rodolfo Piza of the Social Christian Unity Party. He has been president of Costa Rica’s social security administration (la Caja) and in 2012, he was part of a board on democratic governance.
The large percentage of undecided voters and even larger percent of people who have said they will probably abstain from voting (39 percent) make the political panorama in Costa Rica uncertain. During the 2014 presidential runoff elections, 43.5 percent of Costa Ricans abstained from the polls.
Unemployment, insecurity and corruption are the most pressing concerns for Costa Ricans, according to the Center for Research and Political Studies.
In mid-2017, a corruption scandal known as the "cementazo" broke out in the Central American country after the state-owned Bank of Costa Rica granted an irregular loan of over US$35 million to businessman Juan Carlos Bolaños. The corruption case has affected members of the legislative, executive and judicial powers and is interpreted by many analysts as one of the main causes for the high rate of abstention and indecision.
Last year, the country registered the highest rate of homicides in its history: 12.1 homicides per 1000 inhabitants. Leading candidates have different proposals to tackle this problem.
Fabricio Alvarado wants the Judicial Investigation Unit to focus only on organized crime. Alvarez has promised to incorporate technology and 1,000 more police members. Carlos Alvarado proposed to further the fight against drug dealing and recover public spaces. Castro wants to unify the police forces and have prisoners build more jails. Piza has mostly focused on a firm hand and tougher measures against repeat offenders.
The results of Sunday’s elections will also determine the new members of the National Assembly. The percentage of voters undecided for the legislative vote is even higher, accounting for 52 percent of voters.