February 5, 2018 / 7:38 AM / 7 months ago

Christian singer to face leftist author in Costa Rica election runoff

SAN JOSE, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Former TV anchor and evangelical singer Fabricio Alvarado Munoz will face a center-left fiction writer in Costa Rica’s presidential election runoff, definitively ending decades of a two-party system in the peaceful Central American nation.

The Christian songwriter decisively won the first round on Sunday but after failing to reach 40 percent of the votes must now compete in the runoff on April 1 against ex-government minister Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who was also once a singer in a prog-rock band.

The victory of the unrelated Alvarados reflects the growing influence of relative outsiders on politics in Latin America, where some two-thirds of the region’s population can choose new governments this year.

“Costa Rica went to vote and the message was clear, it doesn’t want more of the same,” Alvarado Munoz, 43, said in a speech to supporters as the final results came in.

The shift has hastened the decline of a centrist two-party system that stretched back decades, and led to the rise of Alvarado Munoz on a ticket of fiercely opposing gay marriage.

Neither of the candidates is from one of the two parties that have dominated politics since the mid 20th Century, and they represent a widening of the right-left divide.

Alvarado Munoz, the telegenic author of Christian songs such as “Your love is everything”, won 24.8 percent of the vote. He was elected to the national assembly in 2014 as the only federal deputy for the National Restoration Party (PRN) formed by Christians from another party.

Late on Sunday, the PRN appeared to have massively increased its presence in the national assembly to 14 seats. The party opposes the progressive policies of President Luis Guillermo Solis, such as same-sex marriage, in vitro fertilization and sex education in schools.

“There’s nothing more progressive than defending life and family,” Alvarado Munoz said on Sunday.

Well known as a television news anchor before he turned more seriously to religion and politics, Alvarado Munoz shot to prominence during the campaign after denouncing a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights calling on Costa Rica to give civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“All the vestiges of gender ideology will be eliminated from public policy in Costa Rica,” he said in his government plan.

During the campaign, a video was released of his wife apparently “speaking in tongues”, a phenomenon that evangelicals say allows them to communicate in a divine language.

DRAMATIKA

His rival Alvarado Quesada, 38, backs the court’s decision on same-sex couples. Even though Costa Rica’s 3.3 million voters mostly describe themselves as conservative, he appears to have benefited by energizing voters worried by the strident tone of the campaign.

The former Procter & Gamble employee also tried to connect with young voters, highlighting his university rock band Dramatika and career as a fiction writer. He has a masters degree from Britain’s Sussex University, and his last novel was titled “Brighton Season”.

“The Costa Rica of the 21st century needs a government that knows how to advance with strength, love and happiness, the agenda of equality,” Alvarado Quesada said in a speech on Sunday evening. He won 21.6 percent of the vote in the first round.

The two Alvarados will now fight for the votes of third place Antonio Alvarez Desanti, who accepted defeat on Sunday evening with 18.8 percent of the vote, and the 10 other candidates from the first round.

No matter who wins, the next president will have to work with other parties in Congress to get legislation passed. (Writing by Christine Murray and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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