Ex-president leads vote in Costa Rica; likely runoff

SAN JOSE – A former Costa Rican president has taken the lead in a national election that looked likely to be heading for a runoff between the top candidates.

José María Figueres, who served as the country’s president from 1994 to 1998, won 27.7% of the vote in preliminary results released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Sunday night with 48% of the votes counted. Figueres is the candidate of the National Liberation Party.

There are 25 presidential candidates in the running and if none of them wins at least 40% of the vote, a second round will take place on April 3 between the first two voters.

Figueres was followed by Rodrigo Chávez of Social Democratic Progress with 16.6%, Fabricio Alvarado, who lost to President Carlos Alvarado four years ago with 16% for his New Republic party, and the former Vice President Lineth Saborio for Christian Social Unity with 13%. Any of the three could potentially face Figueres in the second round of voting.

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Costa Ricans will also choose a new National Assembly in elections, which come days after the country’s top prosecutor filed paperwork seeking to waive incumbent President Alvarado’s immunity so he can face

Costa Ricans are frustrated with high unemployment, recent public corruption scandals and a new wave of COVID-19 infections.

Voting centers were busy on Sunday morning as some Costa Ricans tried to beat the typical late-day crowds. The lines of voters lasted all day. Everyone had to wash their hands, wear a mask and maintain a distance inside the polling stations.

Karla Delgado, a 34-year-old teacher, said the upsurge in infections worried her but felt compelled to do her civic duty.

“I think with a mask and everyone well vaccinated, it’s worth going out and joining in the democratic celebration,” Delgado said. “I think the protocols are good and I hope all of this doesn’t increase infections very much.”

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The Supreme Electoral Tribunal reported good turnout across the country.

“I was hoping for fewer people in the morning, because you want to avoid the queues, but from what I saw a lot of people thought the same and came to vote early,” said Carlos Rodríguez , 68-year-old retiree, in the capital.

He did not share his choice for president, but said he hoped there would be surprises among candidates who had not polled particularly well.

“We’re going to have to come back to vote in April, I’m sure,” he said.

The National Liberation Party of Figueres was founded by his father José Figueres Ferrer, who himself served as the country’s president three times in the 1940s, 50s and 70s.

The Figueres youngster was asked about a $900,000 consultancy fee he received after his chairmanship of telecommunications company Alcatel as it competed for a contract with the national electricity company. He has never been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing.

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In addition to voter apathy, turnout remains uncertain as new COVID-19 infections surge around 6,000 a day.

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