On the night of the Feb. 2 general election, Partido Liberación Nacional supporters sang and danced after an optimistic speech from presidential candidate Johnny Araya Monge. A month later in the same ballroom at the Hotel Corobicí, Araya told his faithful that his campaign was concluded.
He said that he decided to put the future into the hands of God, when the polls showed a second round of voting would be needed. The man long thought of as the frontrunner had let his lead slip so opponent Luís Guillermo Solís actually finished in first place but not with enough votes to win. Solís of Partido Acción Ciudadana has since seemed to gain even more momentum.
“I asked a lot of God, and he showed me important signs that I have received to be able to make this decision,” Araya said. “I feel certain about this decision.”
The election’s second round is still slated for April 6, as it must according to the Constitution and the Liberación candidate will still have his name on the ballot. But Araya’s campaign manager, Antonio Álvarez Desanti, confirmed that the now-inactive presidential candidate will no longer do debates, place ads, or visit schools and churches for election purposes.
“We will not call on the people to vote, nor will we stop them from voting,” Álvarez said.
Early Wednesday a Universidad de Costa Rica survey came out in which 64.4 percent of participants said they would vote for Solís. Only 20.9 percent said they would choose Araya. Nearly 15 percent of those 1,200 adults polled via telephone said they would not vote.
Araya noted that Liberación leaders have heard those calls for administrative change from the people.
“I have heard their reasons. I have paid attention to their judgements, and I have consulted the polls that measure the profound currents of public opinion,” he said. “And I have realized the existence of a collective willpower wanting to be relieved of the current party in charge.”
Now that it looks certain there will not be a third consecutive Partido Liberación Nacional member residing in Casa Presidencial, the party said it is planning for a commitment to public services and to rebound with an influential leader in the 2018 elections.
Álvarez, who spoke once Araya and his wife, Sandra, left the podium, said that the campaign team had realized the nation’s voters truly do want a change from the Liberación standard. He said the polling was not the only cause for the party’s retreat, but that it was a major consideration.
“Effectively there’s been a strike by the people of Costa Rica against Liberación Nacional,” he said. “It would have been hard to imagine a victory given our analysis of the electoral map.”
The statistics and surveys that had initially favored Araya and his party plummeted over the past month. Álvarez blamed this sharp turn on the narrative most commonly used against Liberación Nacional that says no changes can come with another liberationista in office.
“In this country there is a sentiment that continuity is bad.”
By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff