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Costa Ricans underwhelmed by options for next president

April 1, 2022 GMT
National Liberation Party presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres attends a campaign closing rally in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, March 27, 2022. Costa Rica's presidency will be decided in a runoff election on April 3. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
National Liberation Party presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres attends a campaign closing rally in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, March 27, 2022. Costa Rica's presidency will be decided in a runoff election on April 3. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
National Liberation Party presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres attends a campaign closing rally in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, March 27, 2022. Costa Rica's presidency will be decided in a runoff election on April 3. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
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National Liberation Party presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres attends a campaign closing rally in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, March 27, 2022. Costa Rica's presidency will be decided in a runoff election on April 3. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
1 of 4
National Liberation Party presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres attends a campaign closing rally in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, March 27, 2022. Costa Rica's presidency will be decided in a runoff election on April 3. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Costa Ricans will vote Sunday for a new president amid widespread apathy, an unending string of controversies between the candidates and no clear favorite.

Ex-President José María Figueres and Rodrigo Chaves, a former treasury minister for the outgoing administration of Carlos Alvarado, topped a first round of voting in February, but neither drew near the 40% required to avoid Sunday’s runoff.

For many Costa Ricans it will be a matter of holding their noses and choosing the less offensive candidate.

Eduardo Molina, a 41-year-old shop owner, said he still had not made up his mind between Chaves and Figueroa.

“It’s really difficult, honestly, I don’t like either of the candidates, but you have to vote because it decides the future of the country,” Molina said.

Figueres, of the National Liberation Party, led the first round of voting with 27.8% of the vote. He governed Costa Rica from 1994 to 1998 and his father was three-time president José Figueres Ferrer, probably the country’s most important political figure of the last century.

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The younger Figueres 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.

But the scandal has been fodder for Chaves’ campaign. Figueres spent more than a decade outside Costa Rica while the accusations flew. More recently, electoral authorities are investigating the source of funds for a trip Figueres took to the Dominican Republic on a private jet to visit President Luis Abinader.

Chaves, representing the Social Democratic Progress Party, has been the election’s big surprise. He seemed to shake off the negative effects of having briefly served in the administration of Alvarado, whose Citizen Action Party was so unpopular that the first round of voting left it without a representative in Congress. But he has his own baggage.

While working at the World Bank he was accused of sexual harassment, eventually demoted and then barred from the office. He has denied the accusations and insists he was absolved, but that does not appear to be the case. He was sanctioned by the bank and resigned shortly thereafter. Figueres’ campaign has returned to the alleged inappropriate behavior repeatedly.

Costa Rican electoral authorities are also investigating allegations Chaves’ party ran an illegal parallel financing structure for his campaign.

According to the most recent poll from the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Political Research and Studies, Chaves had the support of 41.4% of decided voters and Figueres 38%, within the margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The poll was conducted between March 24 and 28.

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Ronald Alfaro, political scientist coordinator of the center’s poll, said both candidates had image problems with a large portion of the electorate. One-third of decided voters indicated that they would not vote for a candidate they liked most, but against the candidate they liked the least, he said.

In runoffs, the margin between candidates in the final results is often wider, but will depend on the 18% of voters who remained undecided, Alfaro said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has eased in Costa Rica since the first round of voting. Still, due to the general apathy and high negatives of the two candidates, experts predict an even higher percentage of eligible voters could stay home than the 40% who did the first time.

Xinia Badilla, a 35-year-old homemaker, said she will vote, but was embarrassed to say who she would choose because both candidates are viewed so poorly.

“They have made a very ugly campaign, only attacks and no proposals,” Badilla said. “I already have my candidate; he’s not the one I would like, but the other seems even worse. So the truth is it’s hard for someone to go around saying for whom they’ll vote or not.”