San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Citizen Action Party's Future Uncertain

Shaken by two key electoral losses in the past three years, the left-wing Citizen Action Party (PAC) is racing to regroup for national elections less than 12 months away.

After the party narrowly lost the 2006 presidential elections and failed to block a free-trade agreement with the United States, just 4 percent of Costa Ricans said they support PAC, according to a recent CID-Gallup poll.

“Each of us has to convince more Costa Ricans that PAC is an option,” said Jorge Gamboa, one of PAC’s founding members.

Founded in 2000 by economist Ottón Solís, the party outperformed nearly everyone’s expectations. In a political system long dominated by two parties, PAC captured a third of the seats in the Legislative Assembly and came within 18,000 votes of winning the presidency in 2006.

But in recent months, PAC has sunk in the polls, as the number of undecided voters grows. Many business leaders say PAC is too left-wing, while some leftists find PAC too centrist.

A handful of left-wing parties are planning to jointly choose a presidential candidate who could suck voters from PAC in the next election, said José Miguel Corrales, who is involved in the effort.

“PAC is stuck between a rock and a hard place,” said Alberto Cortés, a party member and lecturer at the University of Costa Rica.

For the past several years, PAC’s identity has revolved around opposition to the U.S.-Central America Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which was passed in a national referendum in October 2007 and went into effect early this year. Now, said analyst Rodolfo Cerdas, the party must hone a new message that focuses on job security and employment.

The task is daunting. PAC has few loyalists compared to the National Liberation Party (PLN), supported by 37 percent of Costa Ricans, and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), supported by 16 percent.

Still, PAC hopes to tap into the 41 percent of voters who are undecided. The party has always had relatively few stalwarts, Cortés said. But on election day, people choose PAC in part because they dislike the other parties.

“We are a bigger party than the polls show,” said Epsy Campbell, a possible candidate for president.

–Gillian Gillers


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