San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica opposition party hosts first nationwide primary

LIMON, Costa Rica – After the results began trickling in Sunday evening, Ottón Solís claimed victory at 6:45 p.m. of the primary election for the Citizen Action Party (PAC), with more than 70 percent of the votes that had been counted until that time (stay tuned for complete results).

Yet, this election wasn´t just a victory for Solís. Delegates, board members and campaigners across the country were celebrating the success of the party´s first primary election in its nine-year history.

The fledgling political party only had 67,000 people registered to vote in Sunday´s election, but delegates opened tables in cities and towns across the country to receive their fellow party members.

In the Caribbean port town of Límón, home of challenger Epsy Campbell, a sea of her red-shirted campaign workers greeted voters as they passed through the doors. The former legislator, seeking the title of first female president in Costa Rica, had her photo plastered to the side of Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez School. Banners and other paraphernalia boasted her name.

“People seem visibly happy,” Campbell´s husband Norman Swaby said, as he stood inside the polling station greeting friends and neighbors. “They are coming here with great enthusiasm.”

Gómez credits Campbell with flushing the party with energy.

“The party really needs to be thankful for Epsy because this party was dead before she came around. If it weren´t for Epsy announcing her candidacy, who knows where this party would be,” he said.

Campbell´s challenge of party founder and symbolic head of PAC – Ottón Solís – first inspired the primaries. She said she wouldn´t run unless party members gave her the opportunity to challenge Solís in a primary election. In the ensuing months, the campaign has stirred up much media attention and energy among voters, Gómez said.

Campbell and Solís were joined a few weeks later by businessman and anti-free trade treaty activist Román Macaya.

The party is also capturing some disengaged voters from other parties, including the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), which watched two former presidents head to trial on corruption charges.

“My party is The Unity party (long known as Social Christian Unity), but I´ll give my vote to Ottón,” said Limón voter Jesús Méndez, as he emerged from the ballot box, a cardboard tri-fold erected to give some privacy to voters as they marked their choice. “I see that he can be a great president and bring about change. The other parties did nothing. Liberation? Nothing. The Unity? Nothing either.”

Look for the final vote tallies online at on Monday. The winner will represent Citizen Action Party in the presidential election in February.

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