| SAN JOSE, April 6
SAN JOSE, April 6 A center-left academic who has
never been elected to office is expected to easily win Costa
Rica's presidential election run-off on Sunday, after his ruling
party rival unexpectedly ditched his bid last month.
Luis Guillermo Solis, a former diplomat, rode a wave of
anti-government sentiment over rising inequality and corruption
scandals to finish ahead in a first round of voting in February,
surprising pollsters who had placed him fourth.
Facing a depleted war chest, his ruling party rival Johnny
Araya then quit campaigning after an opinion poll showed him
Solis has promised to fight Costa Rica's stubbornly high
poverty rate while stamping out corruption, an issue that has
dogged President Laura Chinchilla's administration.
"We want to recover that sense of solidarity, of social
inclusion, and commitment to the neediest Costa Ricans that has
been lost," Solis, of the Citizen Action Party (PAC), told a
press conference on Saturday.
No candidate won the more than 40 percent of votes needed
in February to avoid a run-off in the coffee-producing nation
known for its white sand beaches, ecotourism and stable
politics, paving the way for Sunday's showdown.
The constitution requires Araya to remain on the ballot and
his party continues to campaign, so theoretically he could win.
But voters appear keen to elevate the young PAC to its first
presidential victory and wrest power from Araya's embattled
National Liberation Party (PLN), in power since 2006.
If Araya won "it would mean a robbery. My country would go
bankrupt," said Maria Fernando Sanchez, 21, a student at the
University of Costa Rica, calling the PLN corrupt.
A prosecutor's probe into allegations of abuse of authority
and embezzlement while Araya was mayor of San Jose made it hard
for the former front-runner to distance himself from party
A University of Costa Rica survey last month showed Solis
had more than 64 percent support while Araya trailed with around
21 percent. Within hours, Araya said he would no longer
But Solis faces hurdles of his own.
Threatened by high rates of absenteeism typical of
second-round voting and the looming challenge of a divided
Congress, Solis could end up with a weak mandate. His PAC will
have just 13 of the 57 seats in Congress.
Though Costa Rica's growing debt stands at over half of
gross domestic product, Solis has said he will wait two years
before raising taxes despite promises to boost social spending.
"He's going to have a government without money, a fiscal
deficit of 6 percent, and lots of social spending commitments,"
said Jose Carlos Chinchilla, a political analyst and a director
at the University of Costa Rica.
Solis also has said he hopes to attract new businesses to
set up shop in Costa Rica's booming free-trade zones, which have
enticed the likes of Hewlett Packard.
"We want Costa Rica to present itself as a country that is
friendly to foreign investment, offering legal security but
requiring compliance with labor laws," Solis said.
(Additional reporting by Zach Dyer; Editing by Simon Gardner
and Lisa Shumaker)