On Wednesday morning, Costa Rica’s 2014 election season officially kicked off with fanfare at the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) in San José. Tribunal President Luis Antonio Sobrado underlined the need for civility in the upcoming elections and urged candidates to recognize that “Costa Rica has changed.”
“Our society has changed and urges us all, you all as politicians and branches of the state – including this tribunal – to read these changes in the needs and demands of our people. We are a people who no longer want political colors or bosses. We want clear proposals and concrete solutions, and want to be respected and taken seriously,” said Sobrado in a speech before a packed house.
Sobrado urged Costa Ricans to research the candidates, arguing that an informed voter was the best tool to keep politicians in check.
Voting is obligatory in Costa Rica but Ticos reserve the right to cast a blank ballot. Sobrado called on voters to rethink this option, saying that it “achieves nothing.”
According to information provided by the TSE, 30.88 percent of Costa Ricans stayed home for the last presidential election in February 2010, which brought President Laura Chinchilla to power.
On Feb. 2, 2014, Costa Ricans will cast ballots for the president and two vice presidents, and 57 lawmakers who make up the Legislative Assembly.
Sobrado also had strong words for the press. In the same breath as he called the media “indispensable” to democracy, the elections chief called on journalists to raise the level of debate during the elections and not fall into “negativisim,” sarcasm and dreg for drama.
The president concluded by reminding the candidates and voters to refrain from violence and intolerance; to respect one another; not to accuse the TSE of bias to distract the public; and for those elected to humbly celebrate their victories.
This coming year will be the first time that 10,264 Ticos living abroad and registered to vote will have the ability to cast an absentee ballot through their nearest consulate. The New York consulate serves the largest number of Costa Ricans living abroad, with 2,382 Ticos registered, followed by Los Angeles, with 1,347.
During the Wednesday morning ceremony, Public Security Minister Mario Zamora ceremonially handed over the National Police’s flag to Sobrado, pledging the country’s security forces to carry out the elections in a safe and orderly manner.
Candidates start polishing their stump speeches
Several presidential aspirants attended the event, many highlighting the need to address the country’s high unemployment rate and growing inequality gap.
Reporters swarmed National Liberation Party (PLN) candidate Johnny Araya, the current frontrunner, according to a recent poll by the daily La Nación, as he entered the TSE offices on the corner of Parque Nacional in San José.
The PLN candidate highlighted unemployment and its eroding effect on the country’s inequality gap.
When asked if a third consecutive presidential term for the ruling PLN was too much for some voters, especially considering the near constant allegations of corruption in the Chinchilla administration, Araya said, “I think voters care more about the candidate than the party. They want someone with the character and experience to lead,” he said, referencing his experience as mayor of San José for nearly two decades.
Otto Guevara, the Libertarian Movement Party presidential candidate, echoed Araya’s assessment that unemployment was the biggest hurdle facing the country. Guevara told reporters that his party would generate 500,00 jobs in the next four years if he were elected president by easing the legal requirements to start a new business, lowering the cost of electricity and attracting more foreign direct investment, among other proposals.
Citizen Action Party candidate Luis Guillermo Solís also agreed that poverty and inequality were the greatest woes facing Costa Rica and argued that reigniting small and medium-sized businesses was the key to tackling unemployment.
José María Villalta, presidential candidate for the Broad Front Party, said he was the “honest” choice for the office, claiming that his was the only party not accused of corruption. Villalta added that the Broad Front was the only party offering “innovative” solutions to the country’s problems that returned opportunities to the people.
Rodolfo Hernández, the Social Christian Unity Party candidate, did not attend the event Wednesday morning due to a prescheduled meeting with his vice presidential candidates, according to Victor Vargas, Hernández’s press director.
Villalta added that considering voter dissatisfaction with failing infrastructure, corruption allegations and the government’s inability to deliver public works, every candidate would struggle to convince the public they have the solutions to their problems.