San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Elections 2014

Proudly PLN?

Following the suspension of presidential candidate Johnny Araya’s campaign, the National Liberation Party has wasted little time in interring his name with his bones. The new social media campaign for the April 6 election makes no mention of Araya, and instead hopes to attract votes using the slogan “Orgullo Liberacionista” or “Liberation Pride.”

It is understandable that some members of the PLN would like to forget Araya, the candidate who received the lowest percentage of support of any presidential candidate in Costa Rican history. Even his brother Rolando managed to win more in his first round finish in 2002. Increasing his infamy, Johnny Araya abandoned his own party’s supporters and the Costa Rican electorate by refusing to participate in the second round campaign. But would the PLN now have voters forget that Araya was after all their choice? Does PLN pride require collective amnesia of their own responsibility in the selection of this presidential candidate?

Perhaps the PLN faithful are proud that despite being responsible for the first-round electoral debacle, their campaign manager, Antonio Álvarez Desanti will nonetheless continue to grace the political stage as one of the leaders of Liberation’s faction in the legislature. Unable to control the overspending of a campaign, he nonetheless will now participate in budget decisions for the entire country. And should the country be proud? Will the pride voters feel for PLN come from their love of economic adviser Leiner Vargas, whose creative repurposing of the economic theory of the “free rider” changes its meaning from a problem to an opportunity?

On March 12, 2014, National Liberation Party faithful pay tribute to José “Pepe” Figueres Ferrer at his grave in Finca La Lucha.

(Yensy Aguilar Arroyo/PLN Facebook page)

Vargas suggested that PLN voters not be deterred by a lack of party transportation to bring them to the polls. Instead, they simply should use the Citizen Action Party’s cars, hitching a ride with the political party that did not misspend all of their funds on a lavish campaign party at the end of January. And should their party members be proud? The youngest member of the PLN’s incoming legislative faction is another point of pride for all. Possessing all the political acumen of a sorority pledge, Silvia Sánchez’s first interview with the press revealed an ignorance staggering even by the nepotistic standard of the party legislative candidate list, which makes the municipality of San Ramón look like an ethical local government. Should the nation feel pride in another PLN decision well made?

Perhaps the PLN’s new slogan refers to the pride the electorate feels in the political governance of the last eight years? It is the pride that comes from remembering the “tough on crime” president’s use of an alleged drug trafficker’s airplane to fly her and her entourage to a wedding in Peru. Or possibly the pride in recalling the graft scandals linked to the trocha, a road and bridge project whose elements washed away in the rain more quickly than PLN has forgotten Johnny Araya? Or is it the nearly constant train of Cabinet member resignations and financial misconduct investigations of PLN congressional members that should invoke Tico pride?

Can the PLN be proudest of all of the waning economy and persistent poverty they have failed to successfully address? They also seem to think their apathy to growing citizen inequality is a source of pride evidenced by the government’s recent authorization of a measly $2.32 raise for public-sector employees making $162 a week or less. An amount more than consumed by the rise in gas prices, toll charges, and train fares caused by the recent run-up of the U.S. dollar, this “raise” would not even fund a Liberation Pride celebration breakfast of gallo pinto.

For “Liberation Pride” to resonate with voters, the voters must either have been sleeping for the last decade or have the political knowledge of a Silvia Sánchez regarding the state of the nation. I doubt either is true of the average Costa Rican voter. The PLN seems to have forgotten that just as many voters abandoned Johnny Araya because he is the standard bearer for Liberación as those who abandoned PLN because of Johnny Araya. Shakespeare was right. While “the good is oft interred with the bones, the evil that men (and women) do lives after them.” The National Liberation Party is about to discover that pride – even Liberation Pride – “goeth before the fall.”

Gary L. Lehring is a professor of government at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. He is on sabbatical in Costa Rica. Read more of his columns by clicking on the hashtag #Elections 2014.

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