|Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla casts her ballot during the presidential election in San Jose on Sunday. (AFP-Yonhap)|
With nearly a quarter of the ballots counted, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal gave Jonny Araya, of the ruling right-wing National Liberation Party, 33.2 percent of the vote against 25.4 percent for his centrist rival Luis Guillermo Solis.
Upstart leftist candidate Jose Maria Villalta of the Broad Front came in third with 17.7 percent of the vote, according to early results.
The 36-year-old had hoped to bring the left to power for the first time ever in this conservative, largely Roman Catholic country. Local media reported he had faced death threats during the campaign.
Election authorities said a record 38 percent of voters abstained from voting, the highest level in more than six decades.
Some 3.1 million people were eligible to vote to pick a successor to President Laura Chinchilla, the country’s first female president, as well as new members of congress, for a four-year term.
Long considered the “Switzerland of Central America” for its peaceful and stable democracy, Costa Rica has nonetheless seen a string of corruption scandals during Chinchilla’s time in office.
Araya, 56, mayor of the capital San Jose for more than two decades, is hoping to keep the ruling right-wing National Liberation Party in office for a third consecutive term.
Earlier Araya said that he was “confident” of a first-round win as he and his wife cast ballots in a San Jose polling station accompanied by supporters.
Araya however is being held down by his association with Chinchilla, who has led the least popular government in the past 20 years.
“I came to vote with the hope that there is change,” said housewife Iris Rodriguez, 45, who called on the next government to “think a little about the poor.”
Leftist Villalta, a lawyer and legislator, focused his campaign on fighting corruption and supporting social equality, and successfully positioning himself as the anti-Chinchilla candidate.
But as the campaign wound down the political polarization gave boosted Solis as a centrist option.
“Whoever wins will head a weak government,” sociologist Manuel Rojas said. “They will have to gain political legitimacy through their actions. They will not be able to govern only with their party, as has been past practice.”