April 5, 2002

Costa Rican candidates face apathy, each other

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) --Conducting its first presidential runoff election, Costa
Rica may make history again this weekend with a record-low voter turnout.

Abel Pacheco of the ruling Social Christian Unity Party and Rolando Araya of the
opposition National Liberation Party will face each other for the second time Sunday
after neither obtained the required 40 percent of the vote on February 3.

The problem is, not many voters seem to care.

"I will vote because it is a patriotic duty," not because of enthusiasm, said Haydee
Acevedo, 42, of San Jose.

In the February contest, 31 percent of eligible voters stayed home. Recent polls
show that up to 44 percent won't cast a ballot in the runoff.

"We're aware that voter turnout always drops somewhat in the second round, but
not to the extent that the polls show," said Oscar Fonseca, president of the Supreme
Election Tribunal. "That would really be a shame."

Political experts say much of the apathy stems from the perception that neither
candidate differs much from the other, an impression that has grown from watching
the same two main parties run the Central American country since a political coup in

Many also see the election as no contest at all. A poll published in Al Dia newspaper
Thursday showed Pacheco ahead with 59.8 percent of the vote, compared with only
40.2 percent for Araya.

The poll, which surveyed 1,800 potential voters, was conducted between March
23-27 and March 30-April 1. It listed a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

Although they say otherwise, Pacheco and Araya share similar visions for Costa
Rica, a prosperous and stable country in a region that often struggles to stay at
peace and keep poverty at bay. Both candidates oppose privatization of state-run

Pacheco, 68, a psychiatrist, also has promised to protect farmers, modify free trade
agreements, and work with a divided Congress to pass stalled government initiatives.

Araya, a 54-year-old engineer, has promised to reform the educational system,
protect the country's lush tropical forests and help farmers.

He also wants to capture a chunk of the votes that went to third-party candidate
Otton Solis of the Citizens' Action Party in February.

Solis, a former federal lawmaker who defected from the National Liberation Party,
made history by becoming the first third-party candidate ever to have a shot at the
presidency. He received 26.1 percent of the vote -- not enough for the runoff.

Solis captured the imagination of a growing middle class increasingly dissatisfied
with President Miguel Angel Rodriguez's promises to reduce the country's large
internal debt, increase foreign investment and create jobs with decent salaries.
Rodriguez is prohibited by law from seeking a second, four-year term.

Solis has said that he would not back either of his rivals, and it appears that many of
his supporters feel the same way.

"There's no one left to choose from now," said 27-year-old Jaime Cerdas, an
industrial engineer from Cartago. "The others don't convince me."

 Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.