January 15, 2014 / 2:14 AM / 6 years ago

Costa Rica ruling party leads in presidential poll

SAN JOSE (Reuters) - Costa Rica’s ruling party presidential candidate bolstered his lead over a left wing challenger in a poll ahead of a February 2 election, local media reported on Tuesday, but a tight run-off vote seemed likely.

National Liberation Party candidate Johnny Araya is favored by 29 percent of voters, up from 27 percent in a December poll, according to a new CID-Gallup poll cited by Repretel News.

CID-Gallup confirmed the report, which is set for official release on Wednesday.

Araya, the 55-year-old former mayor of San Jose, remains short of the 40 percent needed to avoid a run-off election. If he wins, his would be the third consecutive Liberation government to rule the Central American coffee producer since 2006.

Growing dissatisfaction with alleged government corruption under President Laura Chinchilla’s administration has helped fuel the rise of a once obscure leftist party that has become a contender to break conservatives’ grip on power.

Jose Maria Villalta, from the leftist Broad Front Party that had never mounted a strong candidate before, cooled to 20 percent in the new poll from his campaign high 23 percent in December.

Villalta opposes the country’s free trade agreements and calls for more taxes on the wealthy and financial firms. Some analysts think he could win over undecided voters and pick up even more steam in a second-round vote once candidates from smaller parties are eliminated.

Some 15 percent of those surveyed said they were undecided or did not respond to a poll of 1,215 people, which has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Reporting by Zach Dyer. Editing by Michael O'Boyle and Ken Wills

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