By Alvaro Murillo
SANJOSE -Costa Ricans on Sunday began casting ballots in an election with a record 25 candidates vying to succeed outgoing President Carlos Alvarado, but the voting is unlikely to produce an outright winner and a second-round is scheduled for April.
No candidate, including former President Jose Maria Figueres, is expected to win more than 40% of votes, the threshold to avoid a runoff between the two top vote-getters, according to a poll published on Tuesday by the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Political Studies. All 57 seats of the unicameral legislative assembly are also up for grabs.
Costa Ricans have said they want their next leader to tackle corruption and high unemployment rates during the four-year term.
Costa Rica’s electoral tribunal reported that voting was going smoothly across the country.
In the capital San Jose, lines were short on Sunday morning.
Enrique Romero, a 52-year-old construction worker, said he would vote for Figueres.
“I want things to improve, that the government functions better,” Romero said. “The situation is critical. It is not about going back to the past but about moving forward and learning from experience.”
Figueres, who governed from 1994 to 1998 under the centrist National Liberation Party, held a tentative lead in the opinion polls at about 17% of the vote.
The race to replace the center-left Alvarado after his four-year term is wide open. Alvarado cannot seek a second consecutive term.
About a third of the voters in the Central American nation of about 5 million people had not made up their minds about who to back ahead of the election, according to opinion polls.
Victor Morales, a 56-year-old who sells flags, was among those undecided Costa Ricans.
“My business has dropped due to the bad governments we have had,” Morales said. “Before, people used to rally to support political parties.”
Rosemary Chaves, owner of a small grocery store in Puntarenas, the most populous city on the Costa Rican Pacific, also said that while there were a lot of names on the ballot paper, none had credible proposals to address unemployment.
“A lot of people are upset,” Chaves said.
The ruling center-left Citizen Action (PAC) party, which has been in power for two terms, received less than 1% of support in the Center for Research and Political Studies poll.
The national assembly, among other responsibilities, is due to negotiate important financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
In the poll, conservative former Vice President Lineth Saborio (2002-2006) of the center-right Christian Social Unity (PUSC) party had 13% support and evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado of the neo-Pentecostal New Republic Party had 10%.
Polls are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. local time (0000 GMT on Monday) and the first report from the nation’s electoral authority is due at 8:45 p.m. (0245 GMT on Monday).