Voter turnout surpasses expectations for Costa Rica political primary

June 5, 2009

As soon as polls closed on Sunday, campaign workers from across Costa Rica´s Central Valley region began converging on the National Liberation Party´s San José headquarters with plastic bags full of ballots.

Party leaders were expecting 400,000 in total, but as of Monday afternoon they had 593,000 green-bordered slips.

“We are very happy with the turnout,” said Francisco Pacheco, president of the National Liberation Party (PLN), late on Sunday night, when only 18 percent of the results had been reported. “The participation of the voters was massive.”

Just the week before, the opposing Citizen Action Party (PAC) hosted its first primary and had 3.8 percent of PLN´s turnout, at 22,950 votes.

“I would have liked to have seen more people vote,” Ottón Solís, primary victor, told The Tico Times the day following the elections. “But the people who did vote are mainly local leaders, which means that they are behind this campaign.”

But unlike PAC´s internal vote, PLN´s election was open to non-party members as well as party stalwarts.

The 300 tables reporting at 9 p.m. in the PLN election (18 percent of the total) were enough to convince former San José mayor and presidential contender Johnny Araya to give his concession speech. To an audience of solemn-faced supporters, he said, “I accept the results and I ask Costa Rica to accept the results…Now is a time to unite (the party). …This is not the end of anything, this is the beginning.”

His words were swallowed by the chants of “Laura, Laura” at his rival´s headquarters in Sabana Norte, in western San José. Displayed on a wide screen in the outdoor patio, Araya´s concession speech only served to stimulate for Laura Chinchilla´s fans.

“We are all the same party,” said Chinchilla´s announcer, trying to quiet the enthusiastic crowd, whose heads were speckled with confetti.

As of 4 p.m. the next day, Chinchilla had 55 percent of the votes (89.051), Araya had 42 percent (68,421) and Fernando Berrocal, former public security minister, was numbering 3 percent (4,555). Seventy percent of the votes received had yet to be counted.

The fact that a woman will be on the ballot in February 2010 for the dominant political party in Costa Rica didn´t escape supporters or the candidate herself.

“For the first time in history, a woman has a real chance of bring elected president of Costa Rica,” said the 50-year-old mother and former vice president. “We have many achievements to defend. We have many new dreams (to pursue). The future remains to be written by all of us.”

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