No clear presidential frontrunner as Costa Ricans cast votes

Costa Ricans voted for a new president Sunday in elections that have yet to see a clear favorite emerge among the 25 candidates and will be held amid fears of a low turnout because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Costa Ricans will also choose a new National Assembly in the elections, which take place days after the country’s top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado’s immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. He is not eligible to run again.

A large proportion of the electorate remained undecided heading into the vote in the Central American nation.

If no candidate captures at least 40% of the vote, a runoff vote will be held April 3 between the top two candidates. No single candidate was even close to that threshold in recent polls.

Costa Ricans are frustrated by high unemployment, recent public corruption scandals and another surge of COVID-19 infections, but have not swarmed to a candidate.

Voting centers were busy Sunday morning as some Costa Ricans tried to beat the typical late day crowds. Lines of voters lasted throughout the day. Polls closed at 6 p.m. and the first preliminary results were expected before 9 p.m.

Each person had to wash their hands, wear a mask and maintain distance inside the polling places.

Karla Delgado, a 34-year-old teacher, said the surging infections worried her, but she felt compelled to do her civic duty.

“I think that with a mask and all being well vaccinated, it’s worth coming out and participating in the democratic celebration,” Delgado said. “I think the protocols are good and I hope that all of this doesn’t increase the infections much.”

The Supreme Elections Tribunal reported good turnout across the country.

“I hoped for fewer people in the morning, because you want to avoid the lines, but from what I’ve seen a lot of people thought the same and came to vote early,” said 68-year-old retiree Carlos Rodríguez in the capital.

He didn’t share his choice for president, but said he hoped there would be some surprises among candidates who hadn’t polled particularly well.

“We’re going to have to come to vote again in April, I’m sure of that,” he said. “The thing is who gets to that round.”

Fabricio Alvarado, who lost to Carlos Alvarado in a second round of voting four years ago, is running this time for his New Republic party.

José María Figueres is the candidate for the National Liberation Party founded by his father José Figueres Ferrer, who himself served as the country’s president on three occasions in the 1940s, 50s and 70s.

The younger Figueres was Costa Rica’s president from 1994 to 1998, but has been questioned over a $900,000 consulting fee he received after his presidency from the telecommunication company Alcatel while it competed for a contract with the national electricity company. He was never charged with any crime and denied any wrongdoing.

Also among the contenders is another experienced politician, Lineth Saborío for Christian Social Unity. Saborío served as Costa Rica’s vice president during the administration of Abel Pacheco from 2002 to 2006.

Previously, Saborío led Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department, which oversees criminal investigations.

In addition to voter apathy, turnout remains uncertain because new COVID-19 infections are running around 6,000 a day. An election official had encouraged those infected to abstain from voting, but others have acknowledged there’s no way to keep people from exercising their constitutional right.

Polls are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. Sunday. Costa Ricans living abroad cast ballots Saturday in the country’s consulates.

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