San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Keeps Lead in Polls; Pacheco’s Popularity Drops

• National Liberation Party presidential candidate Oscar Arias continues to hold a commanding lead, with 45% of respondents’ support in the latest CID-Gallup poll published in the daily La República. The remaining candidates are fighting for a distant second – Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís was supported by 16% of poll respondents, followed by Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) candidate Ricardo Toledo with 14%, Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara with 11%, and Union For Change (UPC) candidate Antonio Alvarez Desanti with 9%. The poll was conducted Oct. 7-14 and has a 2.8% margin of error.• The same poll found that President Abel Pacheco’s popularity continues to fall, and is now the third lowest in recent history for a President in his 41st month. With an approval index of -7, Pacheco ranks above only José María Figueres in 1997 (-28) and Rodrigo Carazo in 1981 (-66). According to the poll, eight in 10 Costa Ricans think the country is moving in the wrong direction, while only 37 out of 100 say the government is doing a good or very good job.• A total of 50 parties are vying for the 1,062 posts to be decided in the February elections. Fourteen are competing on the national level (for the presidency), 14 on the provincial level and 22 on the level of cantons, according to the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE). Only three parties that started the registration process were unable to complete it, the daily La Nación reported.• Just before the final TSE deadline Friday, the National Union Party (PUN) completed its presidential ticket. Hernán Zamora, former Vice-Minister of Housing during the administration of Rodrigo Carazo, has been selected as the second vice-presidential candidate, joining presidential candidate José Manuel Echandi, former Ombudsman, and first vice-presidential candidate Esmeralda Britton, Woman’s Affairs Minister for the current administration until June 2004.• The TSE has determined legislators have until Nov. 30 to approve a bill for campaign finance reform, which would include cutting the government contribution to political parties by $15 million. After that date, the Executive Branch would have to convoke the bill during the extraordinary legislative session that begins Dec. 1, the daily La Nación reported. But as the February election draws closer, aspects of the bill that could be applied to this year’s campaigns become fewer. The primary goal of the reforms is to give muscle to an electoral code lacking control, transparency and sanctions for violators. It would also reduce the government contribution to campaigns from the current 0.19% of the gross domestic product (GDP), approximately $32 million. How much it would be reduced – to 0.15% or 0.10% – is the main source of debate (TT, Sept. 23).• “Dirty campaigning” is how Liberation Party candidate Oscar Arias referred to information disseminated by the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP) that Arias, during his first presidential campaign in 1986, received funds from former Panamanian military leader and convicted drug trafficker Manuel Noriega. Arias told the press that during the campaign, both Liberation and Unity received donations from Noriega’s party, a practice that was not prohibited at the time. This information has already been declared before the legislatures of Costa Rica and the United States, he added. At the time of the donations (1984), “nobody suspected anything,” he told the daily Al Día.• Legislators will be able to study up on bills, send e-mails and surf the Internet during legislative sessions, once computers are installed at their seats, La Nación reported. Fifty-nine computers, at a cost of $72,000, will be placed in the legislative session room after the purchase is approved by the Comptroller General of the Republic. Antonio Ayales, executive director of the Legislative Assembly, told the daily that the computers will cut down on legislators leaving the assembly during sessions.

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