Cablegate: Election Season in Costa Rica Officially Begins

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A


B. SAN JOSE 1408
C. SAN JOSE 1571
D. SAN JOSE 1721

1. Summary: The GOCR officially launched its 2006 election
cycle on Saturday, October 1. The February 5 ballot will be
a crowded one: fourteen presidential candidates have been
certified by the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE). The field
of candidates for the Legislative Assembly is similarly
crowded, with a number of parties likely to win token
representation. Participation by so many divergent parties
divides opposition to front-runner Oscar Arias and increases
his chances for a first-round win. With the official launch
of the election cycle, parties that successfully participated
in the last elections can begin to receive government
funding. Voter apathy remains a major concern. End Summary.

2. Fourteen presidential candidates have been certified by
the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE). The field of
candidates for the Legislative Assembly is similarly crowded:
each nationally registered party may nominate a block of
candidates, and voters simply select their party of choice.
Winners are apportioned among the parties based on the
proportion of votes received for their list of candidates.
Hence, candidates at the top of a party's list have a much
greater chance of actually being elected than those at the
bottom. With fourteen parties represented nationally,
however, and little name recognition beyond the first few
candidates, next year's legislative assembly will likely
consist of legislators from many different parties.

3. Ironically, the desire to prevent Oscar Arias from
returning to the presidency may result in his easy victory in
the first round. The crowded presidential field contains a
number of candidates who split from Arias's National
Liberation Party (PLN) when the Constitutional Court ruled
that he could run again. Since none of the candidates have
clearly risen above the others or promulgated a distinct
platform, the competition has divided and diluted much of the
opposition to Arias. Most recent polls show support for
Arias hovering near 40 percent--the level necessary to win
outright and avoid a run-off. His nearest competition, Otton
Solis, is polling at a distant 15 percent. Numerous attempts
to form a coalition to oppose Arias have collapsed, leaving a
fractured opposition that has little chance of defeating him
(Reftel D).

4. Campaign Finance: now that the election has officially
begun, registered parties who won at least four percent of
the national vote or at least one Assembly seat in the last
election will receive campaign assistance funds from the
government and will begin advertising in earnest. The amount
of governmental campaign funds available is set at 0.19
percent of GDP, or just over USD 29 million for this cycle,
by article 96 of the Constitution. The same article allows
for the percentage to be adjusted downward by the Assembly.
Owing perhaps to recent corruption scandals and campaign
finance irregularities, a number of candidates are engaging
in a "race to the bottom," with each calling on the Assembly
to approve ever-diminishing amounts. The low bidder so far
is Otton Solis, from the Citizens Action Party (PAC), who has
said 0.08 percent of GDP should be sufficient. Since these
monies are only now available for use, several candidates
have been advertising for weeks or even months using their
own financing. Oscar Arias has been particularly visible,
having mounted expensive print, radio, television, and direct
calling programs. Political parties that did not
successfully participate in the last elections do not receive
government funding until after the elections when they can be
reimbursed for a percentage of certain expenses, depending on
the portion of the national vote their candidates obtained.
Campaign expenses incurred before the October 1 official
start, whether by new or established parties, are not

5. Despite the fierce debate among candidates over several
themes of national importance, including corruption, free
trade, crime, and the economy, voter apathy is rampant. Most
recent surveys have shown that as much as 40 percent of
eligible voters may have decided already not to vote. Should
this trend continue, the eventual winner will have a
difficult time claiming a mandate, and the debate over
CAFTA-DR could become even more acrimonious.

© Scoop Media

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