Runoff Could Challenge Parties’ Finances

February 3, 2006

In 2002, Costa Rica’s electoral system was shaken at its roots. For the first time since 1949,Costa Ricans did not choose a President. None of the candidates received the 40% of votes necessary to avoid a runoff election, and so began a new era in Costa Rican politics.

A Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) employee told The Tico Times that before that election he didn’t “even want to think about a runoff” (TT, Feb. 8, 2002). However, this year, Tribunal employees are more calm and prepared for a run-off, armed with the knowledge that they can pull off organizing another election in two months.

“We have always been prepared for a second round, and in the last elections, we showed ourselves that we are,” said Héctor Fernández, Tribunal Electoral Program Coordinator. “The budgeting is a bit complicated, but we already have the ballots and materials ready to be printed. If they aren’t used, we can always use them for the (mayoral) elections in December.”

If none of the candidates gets 40% of the vote – and polls say it could be close for frontrunner candidate Oscar Arias, of the National Liberation Party – a runoff election will be held April 2 between the top two candidates.

The Tribunal would have two months to reestablish the country’s 6,163 polling places, re-swear-in the more than 40,000 poll workers, coordinate poll observers and finish printing 2.5 million ballots. Only voters eligible for the Feb. 3 election could participate in the April runoff.

The candidates involved – most likely Arias and Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís – would be allowed no additional public funding for their campaigns.

Some politicians say this could cause campaign finance scandals similar to those that plagued the 2002 elections. In 2002, candidates were unprepared for a second round because they had already spent all their funds, both donations and the government contribution to political parties for campaigns.

They therefore had to turn to some questionable sources, including allegedly using offshore accounts and accepting donations from Taiwanese fugitives, in order to fund a second round of campaigning, (although some questionable donations were allegedly received for the first round as well).

Legislators last year debated a campaign finance reform bill in an effort to put an end to such irregularities. The bill included a provision for the government to provide parties with .001% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to finance runoff campaigns. However, this bill was not passed in time for the 2005-2006 campaign season (TT, Sept. 23, 2005).

National Liberation Party officials told the press earlier this month, that, while not expecting a runoff, they are financially prepared.

Meanwhile, Solís has insisted throughout his campaign that PAC can, and has, run its campaign with very limited financing.

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