Costa Ricans cast their first-round vote on February 4 to select their president for the next four years. According to La Nación, the election results indicate a deeply fractured country. Fabricio Alvarado, an Evangelical Christian singer and one- term deputy, was the front-runner with 24.7 percent of the vote. He will face Carlos Alvarado, a writer representing the incumbent party who received 21.5 percent of the vote, in a second electoral round on April 1. The night’s biggest winner was abstentionism, with nearly 34.3 percent of the population declining to vote.
The presidential election took a defining turn on January 9 when the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a binding advisory opinion that obliges the Costa Rican government to legalize same-sex marriage and guarantees the right for transgender persons to officially change their gender in the civil register. e opinion came in response to a 2016 consultation by the current government.
The Court’s statement created a political backlash in the country, where there is still no separation between the Catholic Church and the state. According to a study by the University of Costa Rica, a majority of the population voiced opposition to the Court’s opinion and found comfort in Fabricio Alvarado, whose monothematic platform rests on ‘‘protecting the traditional family.’’ Since the Court’s opinion, Fabricio Alvarado’s support grew by a whopping 22 percentage points, climbing from 3 percent to almost 25 percent, reported Semanario Universidad.
Carlos Alvarado also stealthily rose in the polls in the weeks leading to the election. In favor of the Court’s decision, he presented himself as the liberal candidate ready to confront Fabricio Alvarado in a second round, which was highly expected since no party reached the requisite 40 percent of support to win in the first vote. Carlos Alvarado beat Antonio Álvarez, the main opposition party’s contender. Álvarez had managed to stay up in all polls throughout the campaign and his loss remains one of the biggest surprises so far.
The country’s political segmentation is evident in the new distribution of the Legislative Assembly, whose 57 deputies were also popularly selected on February 4, in closed lists pre-chosen by political parties. Neither Fabricio Alvarado nor Carlos Alvarado’s parties received a majority of legislative seats. Instead, voters elected 17 deputies from Álvarez’s party, followed by Fabricio Alvarado’s with 14 and Carlos Alvarado’s with 10. e remaining 16 seats were divided among four other parties.
The winning candidates’ speeches seemed to consolidate the perception that the runoff is set to become a referendum on same-sex marriage, though neither addressed the Court’s opinion directly.
Fabricio Alvarado fervently warned ‘‘traditional politicians [to]never play with our families again,’’ in a nod to the current government’s consultation on same-sex marriage. Carlos Alvarado instead appealed to the notion of ‘‘love and respect’’ to join forces in the second round, reports Teletica.
Despite many pressing problems, including a growing fiscal deficit, rising criminality rates, and mounting unemployment, the election looks bound to build around this single issue. With just two months before a divided Costa Rica takes to the polls again, it is still hard to judge where the country stands.