Red and yellow Citizen Action Party (PAC) flags waved so thick in the air Sunday night that supporters struggled to see their candidate on stage.
Dark horse candidate Luis Guillermo Solís of the PAC delighted supporters and shocked opponents as he tallied more support than any of the other 12 presidential candidates, forcing the election into an April 6 runoff, the second in the country’s history.
“I’m very surprised, really excited, I really hoped Costa Rica would make this change. It’s really important for us that we get rid of the previous party, National Liberation,” said Carlina Barboza, a 27-year-old law student at the PAC rally Sunday in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, east of San José.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Solís saw strong improvement in the polls but still lagged behind frontrunner Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) and José María Villalta of the Broad Front Party.
At the final count, Solís received 30.95 percent, followed closely by PLN candidate Johnny Araya, with 29.59 percent. Villalta, long favored to enter a runoff election with Araya, won only 17.4 percent, ahead of the Libertarian Movement Party’s Otto Guevara with 11.19 percent.
“The emergence of Solís, who doesn’t come from a strong party background, is a further indication of the erosion of traditional political parties in the region,” said Eric Olsen, associate director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Latin American Program.
“That said, (Costa Ricans) are looking for a government that worries about the middle class, poor people, the inequality issues, education, access to health care – a pretty strong left of center agenda. Costa Rica clearly was not looking for a complete redirection, but one that looks like it included a strong alternative to what Liberación Nacional has been offering for the last several decades,” he told The Tico Times.
But the desire for changed stopped short of a candidate perceived by voters as more extreme, such as Villalta.
“It’s not radical change people are looking for it. It’s change within a certain structure,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.
“Solís is seen as an outsider candidate but in reality he’s part of the establishment. He’s not going to be dramatic change but he might do something differently,” he added.
Despite the communist scare tactics hurdled against the race’s progressive candidates by Araya and Guevara, Farnsworth said business was not likely to flee Costa Rica in the event of a Solís presidency.
“I think either of these candidates would be acceptable in the eyes of business. This is not an earthquake in terms of Latin American politics,” he said, noting that Costa Rica was unlikely to see dramatic swings in its economic policy between Araya and the PAC candidate.
During a press conference Monday, Solís told the crowd that he planned to hold a “dialogue with the entire country in the coming weeks” as part of his push to win more votes and forge alliances for the April runoff.
Solís told the crowd of reporters, “I’m going to take two days off. I think I’ve earned it.”