Financial assistance

Costa Ricans will have to choose between an underdog and a former leader in the presidential vote

SAN JOSE, April 3 (Reuters) – Costa Ricans will choose a new president on Sunday to lead the Central American country through mounting debt problems and social unrest in a runoff between an anti-establishment outsider and a former leader .

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. Read more

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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.

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 can’t vote for Figueres or anything resembling the PLN,” said Olger Quesada, a vendor in San José, referring to the centrist National Liberation Party (PLN), which has often held power in the national and local levels over the past half century. “I’m not enthusiastic about Chaves, but at least he’s someone new.”

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 will be tasked with managing Costa Rica’s economy which has plunged into its worst recession in 40 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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%. Read more

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 open at 06:00 local time (12:00 GMT) and will close at 18:00 (00:00 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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Reporting by Diego Ore and Alvaro Murillo, Writing by Cassandra Garrison, Editing by Dave Graham, Ana Isabel Martinez and Alistair Bell

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