Skip to content
Costa Rican election

Rodrigo Chaves Wins Costa Rican Election

Rodrigo Chaves has won the Costa Rican election. He will take over from the outgoing Carlos Alvarado as the 49th president of the republic on May 8, 2022.

In a peaceful election typical of Latin America’s oldest democracy, Costa Rica decided it preferred Chaves to the better-known Jose Maria Figueres. This, despite many allegations of sexual harassment against him from his time working at the World Bank.

Figueres himself – president of Costa Rica once before, from 1994 to 1998 – is also a controversial figure. Corruption allegations have swirled around him for years.

In the end though, it seems Costa Rica – to paraphrase what cynical voters have been saying – preferred the sexual harasser to the corrupt guy.

Even ex-president Abel Pacheco, in office from 2002-2006, made a half-hearted joke about the situation today, saying that the girls of Zapote (the presidential office is in Zapote, a district of San Jose) should “take care” if Chaves won. He said this after voting for Chaves himself, and Figueres immediately jumped on the comments, saying Pacheco owed the women of Costa Rica an apology. That’s the kind of election it was.

Figueres and Chaves made it this far after they came first and second in the first round of elections in February. Neither of them made the 40% required to win the election at the time, so the run-off between them took place today.

It was always expected that Figueres would make it to the second round, but Chaves was a big surprise, knocking a few better-recognized heavy hitters out of contention.

Today was a low turnout affair, with rural and coastal voters staying away in droves, especially in the provinces of Limon and Guanacaste. These provinces were hit particularly hard by the economic effects of the pandemic, and voters are simply sick of politicians. Official estimates at the time of writing suggest a participation rate of only 42%. Of that 42%, Chaves won 52% to Figueres’ 47%.

After a nasty campaign, where each candidate used the other’s personal controversies as a weapon against them, Figueres accepted defeat tonight, congratulating Chaves and wishing him the best.

For the PLN, Figueres’ party, this result is something of a nightmare. Costa Rica’s one time biggest and most successful party has now lost its third presidential election in a row, the first time that’s happened.

With some polls reporting the only reason why many people voted for Chaves was because they hated Figueres, the party must be wondering if they should have put someone else up, instead of such a controversial figure. Sometimes, name recognition is not a good thing.

The PLN isn’t all the way out in the cold, though. They’ll have the largest amount of diputados in the new legislature when it convenes next month.

Elsewhere, outgoing president Carlos Alvarado said on Twitter that he’d called Chaves – his own Finance Minister from November 2019 to May 2020 – to congratulate him, and assure him of a smooth transition.

For his part, Chaves, in his victory speech, called his win neither a trophy nor a medal, but a responsibility.

It is up to those of us who have been elected to fulfill our responsibility. It is not worth failing Costa Rica,” he said. Chaves also acknowledged the low turnout in the election, calling abstentionism “Costa Rica’s largest political party,” and said he considered that his first warning.

In the end, this Costa Rican election left a bad taste in most mouths.

Two deeply-flawed candidates fighting a nasty campaign amid growing poverty and desperation in the country. Another ex-president, Oscar Arias, said today that this was more of a cockfight than a campaign. Chaves himself called it the dirtiest campaign in Costa Rica’s history. Costa Rica deserves more.

Regardless of the campaigns and the personalities involved, Costa Rica is in deep trouble after two years of pandemic. As soon as he takes office, Chaves will have to deal with the soaring cost of living, increased poverty, high unemployment, and more.

He’s made a lot of promises during his campaign, promises many say he’s unable to keep. It’s now down to his incoming administration to do the best it can for the Costa Rican people.

We wish him luck and hope he can be first Costa Rican president in many years to leave the country in a better place than he found it.

CA Staff

CA Staff