Costa Rica elects dissident Chavez as its foreign chief

SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Anti-establishment economist Rodrigo Chavez clinched the Costa Rican presidency on Sunday, upending decades of political consensus in the Central American nation struggling with rising social discontent and mounting national debt.

Chavez, a veteran former World Bank official, was expected to win 52.9% of the vote in the run-off, a preliminary count by the Electoral Court showed, based on the returns of about 97% of polling stations.

The rival candidate and former Costa Rican president Jose Maria Figueres was seen getting around 47.1%.

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Speaking to supporters in the capital, San Jose, the 60-year-old Chavez said he humbly accepted his victory and urged Figueres to help him move the country forward.

“I humbly beg Jose Maria and his party to work together to achieve what Don Jose Maria himself called the miracle of Costa Rica,” he said, referring to Figueres’ father, Jose Figueres Ferrer, who served as president three times.

“Let’s put the trivialities and vanities aside. Tonight we will start together to serve our country,” added Chavez, who is due to take office on May 8.

Figueres quickly conceded defeat after the results came out.

“I congratulate Rodrigo Chavez and wish him well,” he told the crowd.

Convoys of cars flying the flag of Chavez’s Social Democratic Progress Party crowded the streets of downtown San Jose in celebration.

Opinion polls showed Chavez slightly favored ahead of the election, having unexpectedly finished second to Figueres in an inconclusive first round of voting in February.

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Chávez, who briefly served as finance minister under outgoing President Carlos Alvarado, ran for the renegade president. He has vowed to destabilize the political elite and has even vowed to use referendums to bypass Congress to bring about change. Read more

“If people go out to vote, it will be a landslide and a tsunami,” Chavez said after casting his vote on Sunday.

Figueres campaigned on his experience and his family’s political legacy in Costa Rica, a tourist destination and environmental bastion long considered one of the most stable democracies in Latin America.

Alvarado said on Twitter that he called to congratulate Chavez and pledged an orderly handover.

The electoral court said the turnout was 57.3% which is lower than the 60% who voted in the first round.

With Sunday’s poll, some voters said they were tepid about both candidates, whose political careers have been marred by accusations of wrongdoing.

Chavez faced accusations of sexual harassment during his tenure at the World Bank, which he denied. Figueres resigned as executive director of the World Economic Forum in 2004 amid accusations that he influenced government contracts with the telecommunications company Alcatel. This case has never been tried in court.

David Diaz, 33, said he was not excited about Chavez or Figueres. He left home early to vote by 7 a.m. in the rural town of Takakuri, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from San Jose.

“I see a bit of movement, and there’s a lot of apathy,” said Diaz, a mechanic at a medical device factory.

Chavez faces the challenges of reviving the economy hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and alleviating the poverty in which about 23% of the population of 5.1 million lives.

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Growing income inequality makes Costa Rica one of the most unequal countries in the world, with an unemployment rate of nearly 15%. Read more

In January 2021, the country approved $1.78 billion in financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

In return, the government pledged to adopt a raft of fiscal changes and austerity measures, but lawmakers only passed a law for savings in benefits for public sector workers.

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Additional reporting by Diego Orr and Alvaro Murillo; Additional reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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