The polls are shifting in the final days of the National Liberation Party’s campaigns in a primary election that many people say will determine Costa Rica’s next president.
The long-dominant National Liberation Party (PLN), which has placed six of its candidates in the Casa Presidencial and which presently holds 44 percent of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, is fewer than two weeks away from its primary elections. With the leader of the party’s traditional opponent, the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), battling accusations of corruption in the courts, many believe the victor of the PLN primary will sweep the presidential elections in February.
Former Vice President Laura Chinchilla has an 11 percentage point lead, according to the most recent poll commissioned by the daily La Nación and conducted by Unimer R.I. Chinchilla, a wife and mother who learned politics from her father, comptroller general of the Republic from 1972 to 1987, has served as public security minister and legislator. If elected, she would be Costa Rica’s first female president.
“I have confidence that we are going to win,” said René Castro, campaign manager for Chinchilla, in a phone interview with The Tico Times. “But we have to watch the organization on the day of the election,” he said, indicating that Chinchilla has 10,000 table watchers to assist voters and prevent fraudulent practices during election day on June 7.
Trailing her is former San José Mayor Johnny Araya, who is projected to pull in 34 percent of the vote to Chinchilla’s 45 percent. Araya, a divorced father of three, began his political life as a city council member in San José in 1982 and has served as mayor of the city since 2002.
Araya supporters took the poll results as a call to arms. Campaigners flooded the streets outside the Colegio de Médicos on Monday night, as the candidates exchanged campaign positions in their second-to-last debate.
The chants of “Johnny, Johnny” from his supporters were clearly heard in the debate hall, while the candidates fought to maintain composure as they delivered their messages.
In a press release issued earlier that day, the Araya campaign responded defiantly to the projections.
“Without diminishing or questioning the result of Unimer’s study…this can be the incentive that people need to unite in the movement for change under Johnny Araya,” the statement read. “Poll results are very subjective, and failed calculations are not new, but have become a tradition for both companies (Unimer and La Nación).”
The statement from Araya’s campaign referred to polls released before the 2006 election, in which Unimer predicted a 14 percent gap between candidates Oscar Arias of the PLN and Ottón Solís of the Citizen’s Action Party (PAC), when in reality the eventual results were so close the votes had to be counted by hand.
A CID-Gallup poll conducted at the beginning of May put the two candidates much closer, with Chinchilla at 45 percent and Araya at 42 percent. In both polls, former Security Minister Fernando Berrocal received the support of less than 5 percent of the respondents.
Another poll undertaken by Borge and Associates and published this month in the monthly magazine Poder, showed Araya, with 41.9 percent support, just five points shy of Chinchilla, at 46.6 percent.
Carla Rojas, a political science professor at the University of Costa Rica, cautioned against too much reliance on polls.
“The polls might indicate people’s views at one moment in time, but the final results aren’t known until the end,” Rojas said. “People can be fickle.”
For the most part, the polls indicate that younger people are supporting Araya and Chinchilla, while and the older generation is attracted to Berrocal because he represents “more classical, traditional thought,” Rojas said. Voters who are pleased with current president Oscar Arias’performance are tending to align themselves with Chinchilla, while those who want change and a more personal touch, are siding with Araya.
Yet, in terms of differences of opinions, very little separates the three candidates. “Because this is an internal election, the candidates aren’t varying too much in their positions,” Rojas said. “There is a lot of the same because they want to secure votes.”
What impresses Rojas the most about the upcoming primary elections is the growth in the election process itself. In times past, the candidate on the ballot was selected by the party internally, she said, adding that it now is more open, with debates, heavy campaigning and expanded media coverage.
The PAC, which came within one percentage point of winning the presidency in 2006 under Ottón Solís, is staging its first primary this weekend (TT, May 22).
Solís is just two points ahead of former legislator Epsy Campbell, according to the Borge and Associates poll. In a sampling of 1,750 potential voters, Solís claimed 34.1 percent of the votes to Campbell’s 32.2 percent. But Castro, Chinchilla’s campaign manager, expects a landslide victory for Solís, as “the election is tailor-made for him.”“We are ready for him,” Castro said.