Last Sunday, Costa Rica held general elections to choose its next president and 57 members of the unicameral Legislative Assembly. Former President José María Figueres from the Partido Liberación Nacional, finished first with 27 percent of the vote. Figueres was followed by economist Rodrigo Chaves from the Partido Progreso Social Democrático, with 16 percent of the vote. Both candidates will advance to a runoff election on April 3. Costa Rican voters punished the ruling Partido Acción Ciudadana at the polls, with its candidate, Welmer Ramos, receiving less than one percent of votes. The election was also characterized by historically low turnout—as 40 percent of eligible voters sat this round out.
José María Figueres governed as Costa Rica’s president from 1994 to 1998, and is the son of Costa Rica’s social reformer and former President José Figueres Ferrer. After leaving the presidency, he moved to Europe and worked as the executive director of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2004, Figueres stepped down from the WEF after confirming he had received more than USD $900,000 in consultancy fees from the French telecommunications firm Alcatel. He was never formally charged but only returned to Costa Rica in 2011 when the corruption investigation concluded. Figueres is now running a campaign inspired by his family’s reformist legacy, highlighting his experience as a statesman while promising stability and competence.
In contrast, Rodrigo Chaves is running as an outsider candidate, and his second place in the election surprised some international observers. Chaves is a former World Bank official who forged an anti-establishment reputation as finance minister under outgoing President Carlos Alvarado. While working at the bank, he was accused of sexual harassment by six women. Though Chaves denies the claims, he was demoted and soon quit his senior position in 2019 to work in the Alvarado cabinet. Chaves presents his platform as socially conservative but fiscally liberal.