* Chinchilla support down 23 points since September
* Guevara favors switching to U.S. dollar
By Leslie Josephs
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica, Jan 19 An outsider
candidate from a right-wing party is gaining ground against
Laura Chinchilla, favored to be elected next month as Costa
Rica's first woman president, according to a recent poll.
Newcomer Otto Guevara from the fringe Libertarian Movement,
has pulled into second place behind Chinchilla ahead of the
Feb. 7 election, according to a nationwide survey by polling
firm Unimer published in La Nacion newspaper during the
Chinchilla, a moderate from the National Liberation Party
who is backed by sitting President Oscar Arias, had 40 percent
of decided voters in her camp, down from 63 percent in a
September poll, while Guevarra's support jumped to 30 percent
from 13 percent in the earlier survey.
"Costa Rican voters are looking for an alternative to the
major parties," Cathalina Garcia from Unimer told Reuters. "At
this time, (Guevara) is the alternative."
Guevara's party was founded in 1994 and wants to scrap
Costa Rica's currency, the colon, for the U.S. dollar, as El
Salvador and Panama have done, even though the relatively
stable country does not have high inflation.
Both Chinchilla and Guevara support more free trade and are
tough on crime in the nation of 4 million people, which is seen
as safer than its Central American neighbors and as a haven for
tourists and U.S. retirees.
Chinchilla, 59, served as Arias' vice president and justice
minister and is expected to continue his policies of opening up
the small country to international trade and private-sector
Costa Rica hopes to complete trade pacts with China and
Singapore before Arias leaves office as it eyes Asian markets
as a destination for its high-quality coffee beans and other
Arias, serving his second stint as president, pushed
through a free trade deal with the United States while also
forging relations with China. By law, he cannot run for
reelection for another eight years and the vote likely will be
the end of his career in elected office.
He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in helping to end
the region's civil wars in the 1980s but his peacemaker
reputation took a hit last year when he failed to broker a
settlement to a political crisis in Honduras following a coup.
Candidates need 40 percent or more of the vote to avoid a
second-round runoff in early April, now a strong possibility
according to the poll, which surveyed 1,210 people and had a
margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
(Editing by Bill Trott)