Luís Guillermo Solís staged an unexpected comeback Sunday to join Johnny Araya in the April presidential runoff.
Solís of Acción Ciudadana has been low in the polls for months, while Araya of Liberación Nacional was considered an untouchable front runner. In fact, his campaign expressed confidence that he would win the presidency outright in the first round. He needed 40 percent of the popular vote. He got less than 30 percent.
Solís, who won better than 30 percent, never stopped campaigning, Saturday he even was in a light plane to visit distant native villages.
The first totals released by the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones Sunday night about 8:20 showed Araya with a slight lead. But it was clear even then that no candidate would achieve 40 percent. Frente Amplio’s José María Villalta, who had been in second place in many of the public opinion polls, finished third. He was a continual target because of his leftist views.
Solís is considered to be center left. He opposed the free trade treaty with Central America and the United States. He served in the foreign ministry during the first term of Óscar Arias Sánchez. Later he was an ambassador under José María Figueres Olsen and then secretary General of the Partido Liberación Nacional.
Like many in Acción Ciudadana, he broke with Liberación Nacional shortly after the party was formed.
At the Crowne Plaza San José Corobici Sunday night Araya’s political team pushed him through a dancing horde of cameramen and supporters before he finally took to the stage to address his devoted green-and-white-clad crowd.
Next to him, a giant screen broadcasted updating results that showed Araya’s total vote had slipped below that of Sólis.
Another election day, April 6, awaits. On center stage at the ballroom in the Corobicí, the Liberación Nacional leader got an early start on the campaigning.
“This country is not for experiments,” he said. “This country is not for improvisation. We are going to be bearers of a constructive, positive, and optimistic message that Costa Rica will recognize.”
The mayor of San José and longtime favorite to become Costa Rica’s next president proclaimed that the nation needs experience going forward. He harped on the value of actions over words and of concrete ideas over ambiguous ones.
“We’re going to demonstrate these features with absolute sincerity in these next two months,” Araya said. “We are going to show Costa Rica that we all want to change.”
Although he won the electoral vote in Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limón, based on preliminary figures, the mayor did not win his own province of San José.
“I have been the butt of a lot of criticism,” he said after thanking the confidence his voters put in him.
By law, a recount must be done by hand since the top two candidates are within 2 percentage totals of each other. Still, barring a highly unlikely reversal in the recount, the battle between Araya and Sólis continues.
Solís, when he spoke to his followers, sounded like a man who already had won. He likened the voting results to a tsunami that is sweeping away traditional politics.
His followers chanted in Spanish “no more bribes” and “Yes, we can” as Solís promised a government that would be open and transparent and working for the people instead of the other way around. He said the old Costa Rica ceased to exist at 6 p.m. That was when the polls closed.
He said that the night was one of celebration, but that today the road begins to May 8, which is the day a new president will take office.
Solís was holding a microphone in his left hand but he gestured repeatedly and strongly with his right. He was accompanied on the stage by his wife and key members of the campaign. Solís, an academic, reminded the crowd that the party is only 13 years old.
At 1 a.m., the election tribunal said that Solís had 30.9 percent of the vote to Araya’s 29.6. That was with 1.7 million votes counted. Frente Amplio had 17.18 percent and Movimiento Libertario had 11.18 percent. Abstentions were nearly 32 percent despite official efforts to encourage citizens to vote.
The results of the legislative elections appear to give Liberación Nacional 18 seats and Acción Ciudadana 13. Frente Amplio got nine, and Partido Unidad Social Cristiana got eight. The seats are awarded proportional to the votes the party received in each province.