Political Peacemaking

February 19, 2010

President-elect Laura Chinchilla, who positioned herself as a centrist during the campaign, is reaching out to both sides of the political spectrum to smooth over any lingering conflicts before she takes office on May 8.

On Tuesday, she met at Hotel San José Palacio with right-leaning former opponent Otto Guevara in a closed-door session during which top issues included security, the country’s energy deficit and a new contract with the Spanish car inspection company, Riteve.

Twenty four hours later, she was at the home of Citizens Action Party (PAC) founder Ottón Solís, who had challenged her in the campaign with a grassroots movement from the left. Over coffee shared with people close to both political leaders, Solís pushed small business loans, education and transparency as issues he’d like to see high on Chinchilla’s agenda.

“During a political campaign, we have to define our differences with great clarity so  that the electorate can choose (among candidates),” Chinchilla told reporters gathered on Solís’ back patio Wednesday morning. “But when the time comes to pick the tasks for the government, it’s essential to find our common points.”

It’s support for these shared interests that Chinchilla is going to need when she faces a divided Legislative Assembly in May. Her party, the National Liberation Party (PLN), was only able to secure 23 of the 57 legislative seats. This means the PLN must look to other political groups in order to pass legislation.

“The important thing is to find common points of agreement and move forward,” she stressed. “We need to cultivate a spirit of agreement and a spirit of negotiation.”

Chinchilla, the 50-year-old former vice president in the current administration of President Oscar Arias, seemed more relaxed with Solís than she did with Guevara, calling the conversation “beautiful” and “productive” and saying she spent more time in conversation with Solís because “we felt very comfortable.”

The day before, Chinchilla had characterized the meeting with Guevara as “open and frank,” but she was more guarded with her words during the subsequent press conference than she was after talking with Solís.

When reporters pressed her about the lawsuit she had filed against Guevara during the campaign, she responded only, “We are focused on moving ahead,” and she said the lawsuit is being handled through legal channels.

Guevara, a 49-year-old lawyer who founded Costa Rica’s Libertarian Movement Party (ML), emphasized improved efficiency, citizen safety and more foreign investment in his hour-and-a-half conversation with Chinchilla. He said he sees the ML playing more of a protagonist role in the next government as his party doubled the number of legislators in the Legislative Assembly.

“This necessitates a new dynamic in negotiations,” Guevara pointed out, as Chinchilla’s party will rely on either the ML or PAC to pass legislation.

While he supported Chinchilla’s efforts to focus on shared interests, he also spoke of issues, such as taxation, that continue to divide them. Guevara said he is opposed to any new tax, while Chinchilla is committed to a tax on gaming to raise funds for her security initiatives.

“We need fresh finances to improve our police forces,” she said. But Guevara countered, “We should try to (fix the security problem) with funds we already have.” Yet Guevara also said his party would not be an obstacle to legislative progress.

“We will not be the irresponsible opposition,” Guevara said. Solís also pledged his “unconditional support.”

“This is an entirely post-election conversation,” said the 55-year-old Solís, indicating he doesn’t question the results.

With Chinchilla on his right, the three-time presidential candidate added, “There is a ‘p’ in this conversation. But it’s not a ‘p’ of the PLN or PAC; it’s the ‘p’ of país (country). This is the moment for Costa Rica.”

 

Still Counting. . .

The Supreme Elections Tribunal completed the manual recount for the presidential election, but they only began the recount for the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

 

The final presidential numbers are:

 

Laura Chinchilla: 46.9 percent

Ottón Solís: 25.1 percent

Otto Guevara: 20.9 percent

 

 

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