FORMER President and Nobel Peace Laureate Oscar Arias (1986-1990) yesterday formally announced his plans to run for President in 2006 as a National Liberation Party candidate.
The televised announcement came as no surprise. Since 1999, Arias has expressed a strong desire to again become Costa Rica’s President (TT, Dec. 3, 1999).
Although a frontrunner in the race for his party’s nomination, Arias still must contend with the challenge of Antonio Álvarez Desanti – his former Agriculture Minister – who also has stated his desire to become the country’s next President.
Arias’ announcement unofficially kicked off the 2006 presidential campaign, which some experts predict may become one of the most heated and potentially ugly campaigns in Costa Rican history.
TRANSFORMING Costa Rica into the region’s first developed country will be the central message of the Arias 2006 campaign.
“I have a long-term vision for the country,” Arias told the press last week. “In 2021, Costa Rica will celebrate 200 years of independence.
“…We must resume the dream of 1986,” he said. “Costa Rica can and must become the first developed country in Latin America. Between 2006 and 2010, we hope to be able to push toward making that happen.” Improving public education, he explained, needs to be a top priority if the country is to develop.
Arias also expressed strong support for the Central America Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, which Costa Rica finished negotiating in January (TT, Jan. 30), and the government’s proposed Permanent Fiscal Reform Package (TT, March 12).
THE road to Arias’ reelection campaign has been a long one. On Dec. 1, 1999, Arias announced he intended to participate in the 2002 presidential elections. To participate in the race, he said, he would pursue a constitutional reform to overturn a 1969 amendment to the Constitution that prohibited reelection.
Álvarez, José Miguel Corrales and Rolando Araya – the three National Liberation members who aspired to be the party’s presidential candidate in 2002 –blasted that announcement.
On March 12, 2000, using personal funds and private contributions, Arias organized a non-binding referendum asking Costa Ricans if they were in favor of reelection.
Of the 145,000 people who voted in the referendum, 88% said they agreed reelection should be an option. Although the result had no legal value, Arias hoped it would help convince the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) to overturn the reelection ban (TT, March 17, 2000).
Unaffected by the results, Sala IV upheld the ban on Sept. 6, 2000, effectively stopping Arias from running in 2002. Arias responded saying he would give up on his plans to pursue the presidency (TT, Sept. 8, 2000).
The 2002 Liberation primaries went on
without Arias. The eventual winner, Araya,
came in second during the national election,
behind President Abel Pacheco. It was the
first time the party had lost two consecutive
elections since it was founded in 1951.
IN 2003, the constitutionality of the
reelection ban was taken to court again,
this time by Arias supporters, under a new
argument. On April 4, 2003, Sala IV overturned
According to the court’s ruling, the ban
violated the right of Costa Ricans to seek
public office. Reforms to the Constitution
can only be used expand and protect rights,
not to reduce them, the court ruled.
Therefore, the ban was unconstitutional.
The Sala IV ruling paved the way for
Arias to run in 2006 (TT, April 11, 2003).
If the presidential elections were held
this week, according to a poll published
Tuesday by the daily Al Día, Arias would
win with 43% of the national vote – nearly
twice as many votes as his nearest rival
Ottón Solís of Citizen Action Party, who
previously served as his Planning Minister
and also ran for President in 2002.
The Tico Times requested an interview
with Arias to discuss his reelection bid, but
he did not return numerous phone calls in
ALVAREZ, aware he is the underdog in the race for Liberation’s nomination, said he believes he has a clear and honest message that will prompt Liberation voters to support him in May 2005, when the party chooses its presidential candidate.
“We have a concrete message,” Álvarez told The Tico Times. “I would say it consists of returning to Costa Rica’s roots – a society of opportunities that promotes social mobility.
“The most important thing is for the next government to fight for a fair distribution of wealth that strengthens the middle class and opens new opportunities for young people and small and medium businesses,” he explained. “That’s the direction we’re heading in – a government that provides security for families and society, a better future for all of our people.”
Álvarez, who came in third during the party’s last primary, says voters have gotten a chance to know him as a negotiator who combines experience with youth. A mix of these two elements, he said, is what is needed to renovate Liberation.
ADAPTING the party’s traditional social-democratic principles to today’s reality, Álvarez explains, is a much better choice than recycling leaders and messages of the past.
“There’s a clear difference,” he said. “We [Álvarez and Arias] are from two different generations. I represent a dynamic, executive and managerial personality. We represent a change over what has been done over the past 20 years.
“We represent a new movement,” he continued. “Fortunately, we have also managed to appeal to the more traditional members of the party.”
Arias’ predecessor, former President Luis Alberto Monge (1982-1986), last month publicly endorsed Álvarez as Liberation’s candidate.
Álvarez said persistence and patience will guide him to victory. “We’re starting the primary at a disadvantage, given that our rival is a former President,” he said. “During the next 18 months, his campaign and his message will lose steam. During that time, our message will find its way to the voters.”
Álvarez this week began airing several radio ads criticizing the government’s fiscal plan, saying it would put an unfair burden on the middle class and small and medium businesses.
Finance Minister Alberto Dent on Tuesday dismissed the ads, calling them false and uninformed.
AND another wild card exists, analysts point out.
Legislative deputy José Miguel Corrales, Liberation’s candidate in 1998 and runner-up in the party’s last primary, last week said he is “seriously considering” running.
An experienced politician with a long history of criticizing Arias’ “neo-liberal economic policies” and Sala IV’s “undemocratic decisions,” the lone wolf, as Corrales has been referred to in the local press, could very well affect the outcome of Liberation’s primary.
Corrales’ message is blunt – he claims the political right is hijacking the party. He also has criticized both Álvarez and Arias for being “too similar” on most important issues.
REGARDLESS of who wins the party’s primary election, National Liberation Party president Francisco Antonio Pacheco said he is confident all sides will be able to put aside their differences and band together during the national elections.
“We still don’t know how the primary will turn out and what differences will arise from it,” Pacheco said. “National Liberation Party has a long history of strong and intense primaries. The party is capable of assimilating the differences each faction may have.”
Pacheco added it “appears inevitable” that Liberation will win in 2006.
THE party’s candidate for the 2006 presidential election will be chosen by those who vote in the party’s primary, traditionally held on a Sunday in May the year before the national elections take place. The Liberation Party primary is open to all Costa Ricans over the age of 18.
To participate, according to party bylaws, voters must sign a document joining the party before they vote. Signing the document, however, does not prevent voters from becoming members of other political parties. The pre-candidate with the most votes becomes the party’s candidate after the decision is ratified by the party’s National Executive Committee.