If Costa Rica were to go to the polls today voters would elect the country’s first female to the government’s highest office, says the latest CID-Gallup poll.
Laura Chinchilla, the ruling Partido Liberación Nacional‘s (PLN) candidate who stepped down from her post as vice president last fall to begin a race to the February 2010 presidential election, enjoys 43 percent of voter support. That’s 17 percentage points over her closest rival, Ottón Solís, who became known for his opposition to the free-trade agreement with the U.S. (DR-CAFTA) that Chinchilla’s boss, President Oscar Arias, fought to push forward. The founder of the Partido de Acción Ciudadana party, Solís lost by a hair to Arias in the 2006 vote.
The poll was published on August 19 by the daily La República, alongside an odd rendering of a race, with the candidates heads photo-shopped onto the bodies of marathon runners.
Chinchilla came out far ahead of Libertarian Otto Guevara (8 percent) and former President Rafael Angel Calderón of the Partido de Unidad Social Cristiana, who despite standing trial for alleged corruption still managed to muster 6 percent. Calderón told La República “internal surveys tell us that the Costa Ricans will give me their support when I’m declared innocent … after September 20.”
On the international stage, a Chinchilla win likely would mean a continuation of Arias’ resounding thumbs up to free trade, and not just with the superpower to the north. His administration currently is brokering trade deals with China, Singapore and the European Union.
At home, voters are hoping for a hard hand in the fight against crime—which has seen soaring rates in this historically nonviolent nation. Chinchilla’s caché as a former public security minister may shore up voter concern.
The CID-Gallup poll offers some more interesting tidbits. For starters, Chinchilla supporters have escaped the wrath of recession. They enjoy the same economic level as, if not a better one than, the year before, according to the poll.
Of the more than 1,000 people polled this month, 72 percent support the idea of a female president—a slight improvement from April, La República reported.
Although not the country’s first female presidential candidate, Chinchilla seems to be coming closer to San José’s Casa Presidencial than any woman before her, as she’s running on the ticket of a party that continues to ride on the popularity of its Nobel Peace Prize laureate leader, Arias.
Women’s rights groups have said Chinchilla’s success attests not only to her skill at politics and stacked resume, but also to the country’s hard-won women’s rights: Costa Rica obliges its parties to give at least 40 percent of electable posts to women. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Costa Rica ranks 10th in the world in terms of the percentage of women in government. See Americas Quarterly‘s recent policy update on gender quotas for more on the topic.
Costa Rica’s congress passed a law at the end of July aiming to raise that quota to 50 percent by 2014. So while Chinchilla’s would be a fresh face at the helm of this old Central American democracy, in the future the Ticos—as Costa Ricans call themselves—should get used to seeing more Ticas calling the shots.
*Alex Leff is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org based in San José, Costa Rica, and is the online editor for The Tico Times, Central America’s leading English-language newspaper.