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Cablegate: Costa Rica's Election Campaign Hits Its Final Leg

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FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
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INFO WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 000019

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN HITS ITS FINAL LEG

1. (SBU) Summary: With national elections a week away, Laura
Chinchilla of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) is holding
on to first place in the race to be Costa Rica's next president.
Most observers believe she will win more than the required forty
percent needed to win the election in the first round, and handily
defeat her two primary challengers. Polls suggest that while PLN
will retain a plurality within the Legislative Assembly, the body
will become more fractionalized following the February 7 elections.
In pre-election visits to important population centers, embassy
teams found perceptions of rising crime, unemployment and growing
voter apathy to be the primary concerns of voters. Post will send
fifteen staff members to visit various polling places on election
day. Regardless of the victor, we expect the GOCR to continue to
be a constructive partner with the USG on our domestic and regional
priorities. End Summary.

Laura Standing Firm

2. (SBU) A series of recent polls has shown Laura Chinchilla's
support holding steady at 43-45 percent of the vote, only a week
before national elections. Though she couldn't claim a clear
victory in any of Costa Rica's three televised debates, the steady
Chinchilla held her own and put in relatively mistake-free
performances. With her steady polling numbers and the ruling
National Liberation Party's (PLN) grassroots organization and
ability to get out the vote, almost seventy percent of Costa Ricans
expect Chinchilla to become Costa Rica's next president, according
to a recent poll.

3. (SBU) Chinchilla's two main challengers, Otto Guevara from the
Libertarian Movement (ML) and Otton Solis from the Citizens Action
Party (PAC), have been unable to inflict damage on the frontrunner
in recent weeks. Guevara had previously looked as if he might
provide a true challenge to Chinchilla, and had been polling as
high as thirty percent. However, Chinchilla, Solis and other
candidates have recently focused on questioning Guevara's
questionable sources of campaign funding and libertarian policy
ideas (including an idea to "dollarize" the economy, which Solis
ripped to shreds in a recent debate). The results have seen
Guevara slipping a bit in the polls while Solis picks up some
support, though not nearly enough to challenge Chinchilla.

Legislative Assembly

4. (SBU) The picture is a bit more muddled in the 57-seat
Legislative Assembly, where Costa Rica uses a complicated
mathematical formula to award Assembly seats to parties based on
the number of votes received by province. The PLN should remain
the plurality party and win around 23-25 seats, however unlike in
years past there will be no single, large opposition party. The
ML and PAC should make up the second and third largest parties, but
with only around 13 and 8 seats respectively, with the near defunct
Social Christian Union Party (PUSC) and other smaller parties
splitting the remaining 11 seats.

5. (SBU) In all likelihood, the PLN will have to form partnerships
with some of the minority parties to accomplish any real progress
in the Assembly (a simple majority of 29 votes is needed for most
votes, though some require a super-majority of 38). Political
commentators have speculated that the centrist PUSC might serve as
a natural partner in the Assembly, where the two parties have
cooperated in the past. However PUSC presidential candidate Luis
Fishman (currently polling at 8-9 percent), who is also a candidate
for the Assembly, recently told us that while ideologically PUSC
and PLN have much in common, PUSC has been punished by voters in
the past for working together with the PLN. (NOTE: The parties are
bitter rivals stemming from the Costa Rica's 1948 civil war, and
many PUSC/PLN supporters have viewed past collaboration between
their parties as an example of the corruption of their political
elites. END NOTE.) That said, Fishman has made it clear both
publicly and in private that he would favor a Chinchilla victory

over that of Otto Guevara, and privately told us he would endorse
Chinchilla in the event of a second round match-up between the two.


Run-off not likely, but...

6. (SBU) Though unlikely, if Chinchilla were to come in under the
forty percent mark, she would face the second place vote-getter-in
all probability Otto Guevara-in an April 4th run-off. Yet most
political analysts believe that even in this case Chinchilla would
win the run-off election, as at a base level Guevara is simply too
conservative/libertarian for Costa Rica. Among other proposals, he
would scale back or completely abolish the central bank after
dollarizing the economy, eliminate federal funding of universities,
and cut public spending on Costa Rica's health care system. Thus,
the other candidates could hold their noses and lend their support
to Chinchilla in the event of a run-off.

Election Reporting and Observing

7. (U) Throughout December and January post organized a series of
nine visits of Mission personnel to various important population
centers to meet with local leaders regarding their thoughts on the
elections. Two-person teams met with local mayors, national
assembly candidates, religious leaders, journalists, university
professors and businessmen to find out what issues were most
important to voters in their areas, and how they saw the elections
playing out locally and nationally. The local leaders our teams
met with consistently described ongoing perceptions of rising crime
and worries over unemployment to be two of the primary voter
concerns. Those we met with were also concerned with rising voter
apathy despite what they saw as an increase in campaign spending in
this year's election. Most of those we met with believed that
Laura Chinchilla and the PLN would win the elections, though the ML
and PAC had strong pockets of support in many of the areas we
visited.

8. (U) The Embassy will be sending out fifteen staff members to
visit over thirty polling stations on election day. Though the OAS
and a few other international missions are also sending out small
observing teams, the bulk of monitors/observers will be from the
major political parties and domestic non-governmental
organizations.

Comment

9. (SBU) If Chinchilla, who served as President Oscar Arias' Vice
President until declaring her candidacy in 2008, goes on to win the
election it could provide continuity for GOCR programs. We expect
her to continue to work with the USG to address security issues
(and one of her campaign promises has been to increase spending on
security), Costa Rica's environmental and energy challenges, and
continued economic development, among other issues. The Georgetown
University graduate and former USAID contractor has said that she
hopes to continue to improve relations between the U.S. and Costa
Rica, and has expressed particular interest in working with the
Secretary on international women's issues. However, regardless of
the victor of Sunday's elections, we expect the GOCR to continue to
be a constructive partner with the USG on our domestic and regional
priorities.
ANDREW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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