San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Finance Minister To Run for President

Finance Minister Guillermo Zúñiga has announced he will run for president in 2010, joining a crowded field of aspirants from the National Liberation Party (PLN).

Zúñiga, 58, told the weekly El Financiero that party leaders had asked him to run. Under the electoral code, he would have to give up his cabinet post by February, 12 months before the elections.

Other PLN aspirants include San José Mayor Johnny Araya, former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal and businessman Antonio Alvarez. Vice President and Justice Minister Laura Chinchilla is also widely expected to run, though she has not yet formally announced her candidacy.

PLN picks its candidate in an open nationwide primary in June.

Of the four aspirants, Chinchilla is most popular among active PLN members, according to a Unimer poll conducted for the daily La Nación published earlier this week. Some 32 percent of party members support her, while 29 percent back Araya, 17 percent like Alvarez, and just 3 percent are rooting for Berrocal. Unimer did not ask about Zúñiga, who announced his intentions after the poll was taken.

Zúñiga has garnered praise for substantially improving tax collection and logging the first budget surplus since the 1950s.

Still, neither the Finance Ministry nor the Central Bank, on whose director’s board Zúñiga sits, has been able to protect Costa Rica from global economic woes. Surging fuel and food prices worldwide have contributed to a 15.4 percent inflation rate here during the past year, and the economy is expected to grow just 3.2 percent this year, down from 7.1 percent last year.

More recently, Zúñiga has come under fire for refusing to give the press details about China’s purchase of $300 million in Costa Rican bonds. Earlier this month, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ordered Zúñiga to make the information public.

The National Liberation Party appears favored to win the presidency: 32 percent of Costa Ricans support PLN, while 15 percent back the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), and just 7 percent favor the Citizen Action Party (PAC), according to a poll by CID-Gallup conducted in late July for the daily La República.

Still, 42 percent of Costa Ricans are undecided and could throw the elections to any party.


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