Costa Ricans vote in a runoff election on Sunday, choosing between an anti-establishment foreigner and a former leader to be the Central American country’s next leader as it grapples with debt problems and the social discontent. The final poll gave economist Rodrigo Chaves, a longtime former World Bank official, a slight lead over former President Jose Maria Figueres. Chaves had 41% support, while Figueres was seen with 38%, with many voters still undecided, according to a University of Costa Rica poll released on Tuesday.
Chaves, who also served briefly as incumbent President Carlos Alvarado’s finance minister, came second in an initial vote in February. Considered a renegade, he has vowed to shake up the ranks of the political elite, even pledging to use referendums to bypass Congress in order to bring about change. “If people are going to vote, it will be a sweep, a tsunami,” Chaves said confidently after casting his vote on Sunday.
Figueres, whose father also served as president for three separate terms, campaigned on his experience and family political heritage. He promised to boost post-coronavirus pandemic economic growth and boost green industries in the environmentally progressive nation. “Let’s vote with joy, respecting everyone’s preferences, but strengthening our democratic system,” Figueres told reporters after the vote. Ahead of the election, some voters said they were lukewarm towards the two candidates, whose political careers have been marred by accusations of wrongdoing. Chaves faced allegations of sexual harassment during his tenure at the World Bank, which he denied. Figueres resigned as executive director of the World Economic Forum in 2004 amid accusations in Costa Rica that he influenced state contracts with telecommunications company Alcatel, a case that never went to trial by a court.
“I came because it’s compulsory, but I’m a little scared of what will happen to the country,” said Diego Ortiz, 32, a nursing assistant who voted in the morning at a polling station in Leon. XIII, a poor district. north of the capital San José. “Neither are good candidates for me. Another voter, David Diaz, 33, said he was not enthusiastic about either candidate. He left his home early so he could vote at 7 a.m. in the rural town of Tacacori, about 30 km (19 miles) from San Jose.
“I see very little movement, there’s a lot of apathy,” said Diaz, a mechanic at a medical device factory. Only 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in the first round, the lowest figure in decades. The margin between Chaves and Figueres, which has narrowed ever since Figueres led the first round, means undecided voters make up a key 18% slice of the pie that could sway the election in favor of the one or other of the candidates.
“Chaves retains an advantage primarily due to Figueres’ relatively higher rejection rates and the weight voters place on his corruption allegations over Chaves’ sexual harassment baggage,” consulting group Eurasia said in a statement. note. “But the high level of undecided voters and very fluid voter preferences mean Figueres could still score a win.” A new president must manage Costa Rica’s economy, which has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, before it bounces back. About 23% of the country’s 5.1 million people live in poverty. Growing income disparity makes it one of the most unequal countries in the world, and unemployment stands at almost 15%.
Costa Rica accepted $1.78 billion in financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund in January 2021. In return, the government said it would push through a series of tax changes and austerity measures, but lawmakers only passed legislation to save on benefits for public sector workers. Polling stations opened at 0600 local time (1200 GMT) and will close at 1800 (0000 GMT Monday). The first results are expected after 8 p.m. local time from the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.
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