Costa Rica’s governing party nearly ‘erased’ by election

February 8, 2022 GMT
A couple walks to cast their vote at the Liceo de Moravia school voting center during general elections, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Ricans will choose a new president and National Assembly in the elections that are taking place days after the country's top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado's immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
A couple walks to cast their vote at the Liceo de Moravia school voting center during general elections, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Ricans will choose a new president and National Assembly in the elections that are taking place days after the country's top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado's immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
A couple walks to cast their vote at the Liceo de Moravia school voting center during general elections, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Ricans will choose a new president and National Assembly in the elections that are taking place days after the country's top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado's immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
A couple walks to cast their vote at the Liceo de Moravia school voting center during general elections, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Ricans will choose a new president and National Assembly in the elections that are taking place days after the country's top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado's immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)
A couple walks to cast their vote at the Liceo de Moravia school voting center during general elections, in San Jose, Costa Rica, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Ricans will choose a new president and National Assembly in the elections that are taking place days after the country's top prosecutor filed papers seeking to lift outgoing President Carlos Alvarado's immunity so he can face charges related to the collection of personal information on citizens. (AP Photo/Carlos Gonzalez)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) — Costa Rica’s Citizens’ Action Party broke 60 years of bipartisan rule in 2014, but after two terms in power it was practically erased from the country’s political map in national elections.

Outgoing President Carlos Alvarado’s party got less than 1% of the votes cast Sunday, according to the latest preliminary results from the Supreme Elections Tribunal. The party didn’t even earn one of the 57 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

The party’s presidential candidate, lawmaker Welmer Ramos, was never able to shake the unpopularity of Alvarado and the frustrated “change” that the party had promised.

Political scientist Francisco Barahona blamed the downfall on the governments of Alvarado and his predecessor, Luis Guillermo Solís. He said they created emotion “almost of revenge” among people who wanted to punish it at the ballot box.

Corruption scandals, approval of a controversial fiscal reform, unemployment and the handling of COVID-19 restrictions contributed to a discontent that manifested itself in the popularization of the phrase “it’s the PAC’s fault” — a reference to the party’s Spanish initials.

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The party never had a clear ideological direction, operating with economic positions very close to those on the right and human rights positions close to those on the left, Barahona said. Ultimately, the party betrayed its promise of an ethical government, he said.

“The issue of ethics is important, because the party didn’t fight to avoid corruption, nor did it want to govern for the progressive majorities that elected it,” Barahona said. “That’s why the people preferred to erase them from the map.”

Both the Solís and Alvarado administrations were plagued by corruption scandals. During the Solís administration, a decree allowed a businessman, now accused of fraud, to import cement from China. The government was accused of facilitating a number of loans from a public bank and the necessary import permits. Juan Carlos Bolaños, the businessman, is awaiting trial.

Alvarado faced blowback over his office’s collection of personal information on citizens. Costa Rica’s top prosecutor filed papers last week seeking to lift the president’s immunity so he can face charges.

Prosecutors allege Alvarado abused his authority by creating the Presidential Unit of Data Analysis with the supposed goals of using personal data to better tailor public policy. But the unit allegedly sought restricted information from various government agencies, such as personal income and medical records.

Unlike the National Liberation and Social Christian Unity parties that alternated in power for six decades, Alvarado’s party failed to consolidate a structure that would keep it a viable contender and never developed the loyalty of those who “loaned” their vote, Barahona said.

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Falling short of the needed 4% of the vote, the party will not be eligible for state financing and faces a $350,000 punishment from the Supreme Elections Tribunal for campaign finance violations.

Solís said the defeat must lead to a “deep reflection.”

Now the party will be spectator for the second round of presidential voting April 3 pitting former President José María Figueres and former Treasury Minister Rodrigo Chaves, who were the top two finishers among the 25 candidates in Sunday’s election.