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Five Things to Know about Costa Rica's Presidential Runoff

Carlos Alvarado, Fabricio Alvarado, Costa Rican 2018 presidential candidates

Carlos (L) and Fabricio Alvarado. (Images: the candidates' Facebook pages)

March 28, 2018

52% = Percent of Costa Rican voters who say they're willing to cut their Semana Santa vacation short to vote in the April 1, Easter Sunday presidential runoff #EleccionesCR
With polls in a dead heat, Costa Rica's April 1 presidential runoff will hinge on voter turnout, which was 65.7% for the first round.

On Easter Sunday, Costa Ricans are going to pack up early from their Semana Santa beach vacation to go vote in the April 1 presidential runoff. Their choice will be a stark one between evangelical leader and congressman Fabricio Alvarado, 43, of the National Restoration Party (PRN) and Citizen Action Party’s (PAC) Carlos Alvarado, 38, a former cabinet minister of President Luis Guillermo Solís.

Congresswoman-elect Ivonne Acuña is the PRN candidate for the first vice presidency and journalist Francisco Prendas for the second. Carlos’ PAC running mates are Congresswoman Epsy Campbell and Marvin Rodríguez, a community educator. Campbell, one of the country’s most prominent female and Afro-descendant politicians, cofounded the PAC and was a two-time presidential candidate. The PRN will have 14 seats and the PAC 10 in the 57-seat unicameral legislature for the 2018–2022 session.

Fabricio declined to participate in seven debates, though did go head-to-head with Carlos in at least three during the eight-week runoff campaign.

1. Polls are neck and neck. (See the chart.)

In three polls released by the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Political Studies (CIEP), the two candidates are in a statistical dead heat. Meanwhile, OPol Consultores surveys have shown Fabricio with a consistent 5- to 10-point advantage. A Gallup poll from the second week of March also put Fabricio ahead, albeit within the margin of error.

2. Everything will depend on turnout.

A quarter of ticos say they plan to vacation away from home this week. In Fabricio’s favor, his strongest support is in the country’s three coastal provinces (Guanacaste, Limón, and Puntarenas), where 28 percent of ticos live, and voters there won’t be far from their polling stations. Carlos, meanwhile, has stronger support in the interior provinces of Cartago and Heredia, which represent 21 percent of the population. More than half of voters live in the two other interior provinces, San José and Alajuela, where Fabricio has a narrower but not insignificant advantage. Turnout hit 65.7 percent in the February 4 general elections, down 2.5 points from four years earlier.

3. Fabricio and election authorities are at odds.

The Costa Rican Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued a preliminary warning to the PRN campaign and Fabricio for mixing politics and religion when he lobbied church leaders for support at a March 16 closed-door meeting, which only came to light this week. If he violates campaign rules again, he faces up to three years in prison. The board sanctioned his campaign in January for similar reasons, and at the March 16 meeting, Fabricio said the TSE was trying to “put a gag” on his campaign. The pastor hosting the event called for the leaders to support a bill that would “put the TSE in its place.”

4. Tensions over LGBT rights remain high.

The Ombudswoman’s Office reported a “disproportionate” rise in violence against the LGBT community after the first round. Fabricio won that vote after riding a wave of anti-LGBT support and pledging to withdraw Costa Rica from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), which ruled just weeks before the February 4 vote that Costa Rica must recognize same-sex marriage. Later that month, the candidate reiterated support for the polemical idea of “conversion” for gay people. Costa Rica’s tourism sector met with Fabricio to underscore that one in 10 international visitors to Costa Rica is from the gay community.

5. Prominent figures are keeping their distance.

Two of Costa Rica’s most high-profile politicians, former PLN presidents Óscar Arias and Laura Chinchilla, have not endorsed a candidate yet, due in part to longstanding tensions between their party and the PAC and Solís.

That said, Chinchilla said on Twitter that the statements by Fabricio and the PRN about the TSE were “problematic and counterproductive.” Christiana Figueres, one of Costa Rica’s most lauded international diplomats and a daughter of a president herself, urged for Costa Rica to remain in the IACHR. Arias, for his part, met with Fabricio in February to persuade him to drop his campaign pledge to take Costa Rica out of the court, though in the final debate on March 26, the candidate declared that the court “cannot legislate in this country.”