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José María Figueres, former president and current candidate for president of Costa Rican
Costa Rican held the first presidential elections of the year in Latin America. Photo: @figuerescr.

Costa Rican presidential elections go to a second round

Who are the candidates that will compete for president of the Central American country in April? It started with 25, but now there are two.

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In a country like the United States, where the presidential elections are reduced to a race between only two contenders, imagining an election with 25 candidates would be absurd. This was the case for Costa Rica, a country that held its presidential election over the weekend and the large number of candidates drew international attention and left. When the dust settled, only two candidates are now left to battle it out in a second round of elections to be held on April 3.

Before the election, as many of 40% of polled voters went in undecided, and the result was no conclusive winner, with the highest vote-getter only receiving 27% of the vote. In addition to the president, 57 deputies were also elected to the country's legislative assembly and two vice presidents.

For the second round, Costa Ricans will choose between José María Figueres, candidate of the National Liberation Party (PLN) and former president between 1994 and 1998, and Rodrigo Chaves of the Social Democratic Progress Party, who was a former Minister of Finance.

Candidate pros and cons

Figueres, 67, is the son of José María Figueres Ferrer, leader of the winning side of the 1948 civil war, founder of the Second Republic and the one who made the historic decision to abolish the army in Costa Rica.

He graduated with an industrial engineering from the West Point Military Academy in the United States. In 1986, he jumped into politics, serving as Minister of Foreign Trade and Agriculture and Livestock during the first term of Óscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner. In 1991, he completed a master's degree in Public Administration at Harvard.

Figueres is recognized for having promoted investment in technology and ecotourism, and brought the arrival of Intel to Costa Rica in 1996. However, his time in politics also generated controversy, such as the closure of several government institutions because of his privatization of the banking system. His popularity also noticeably decreased after he promoted the reform of the country's Pension Law.

Between 2000 and 2003, Figueres was also at the center of a corruption scandal known as the ICE-Alcatel case, which forced him to resign from the World Economic Forum. He was never charged with a crime. In 2017, he also faced scrutiny for approving a questionable loan to a construction firm, as well as for the closure of the oldest financial institution in Costa Rica, which left many unemployed.

Chaves, for his part, who was the major surprise of the first election day, is an economist with extensive experience and international training who had a brief role in the cabinet of President Carlos Alvarado.

At 61, he has a Ph.D. in economics and was awarded a fellowship at Harvard to study poverty issues in Asia. With nearly 30 years of experience at the World Bank, Chaves has conducted extensive research in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chaves left the financial institution amid complaints of inappropriate sexual behavior. He described the remarks made as "gossip" and assured they were not the reason for his retirement.

For almost six months in 2019, he was in charge of the Ministry of Finance during the Alvarado administration. The relationship that was broken after Chaves made statements without authorization from the president and documents were also leaked.

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