A World Bank economist, sanctioned for sexual harassment and until recently unknown in politics, the right-wing Rodrigo Chaves conquered the presidency of Costa Rica with a frontal speech. How did he do it?
Here are some keys to understand the reasons for the triumph of this 60-year-old economist, who will take office on May 8, until 2026.
1.- Hope of economic improvement:RELATED
Costa Rica is going through an economic crisis, aggravated by the pandemic, which hit its main engine, tourism. It has 23% of its population in poverty and 14% unemployed. Also a public debt equivalent to more than 70% of GDP.
Ordinary citizens and specialists placed this issue as a priority for the next government.
Chaves, Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Ohio State and Harvard, in the United States, showed credentials for it and promised austerity in state spending and massive job creation.
“Chaves has more concrete and achievable plans to find important savings in the functioning of the State (…), with monopolistic openings that would provide more employment. This is a fundamental pillar of what is needed,” said economist and businessman Daniel Suchar.
2.- Institutionalized machismo:
Chaves’s main obstacle since he became a candidate for the new Social Democratic Progress Party (PPSD) was criticism for a sanction for sexual harassment of two subordinates when he worked at the World Bank, between 2008 and 2013.
The president-elect justified himself by saying that his attitudes were “jokes” that were “misunderstood due to cultural differences.”
However, despite questioning from multiple sectors, mainly women, he received 53% of valid votes in the ballot.
“There is machismo and institutionalized violence in this country. There was talk that “something that happened to a couple of girls in another country cannot define our future” and that is painful, it is private violence,” said Rocío Jiménez, a member of the Girls in Front collective.
“There was so much talk about the case that it made empathy, especially in men, because it must be said that here sexual harassment has become naturalized and has been a daily practice. People have been harassers or we have been silent”, considered, for its part, the political analyst Gina Sibaja.
3.- Rival worn out:
Chaves fought in the runoff against José María Figueres, former president, son of the historic president José Figueres Ferrer, and representative of the most traditional party, National Liberation (PLN).
Although Figueres took advantage in the first round, accusations against him for alleged corruption, having received payments for a consultancy in 2004 from a company that paid bribes in the public sector, quickly wore him down.
“This second round focused more on personal attacks than on proposals, and the accusations of harassing did less harm to Chaves than those of Figueres due to the image of corruption,” explained Alejandro Molina, from the National Policy Observatory of the University of Costa Rich (OPNA).
4- Confrontation or leadership?:
Chaves launched headlong into the campaign with his slogan “me como la anger” (I take on the challenge), alluding to confronting national problems.
But, in his outspoken style, he used terms like “rogue press” against critical media outlets, made misogynistic statements, and clashed with traditional business groups.
That earned him the qualification of arrogant and confrontational for detractors and frank and direct for followers.
“Chaves, being an outsider (unknown) of politics, who seems to break in without negotiating, was attractive to the population. The vote was for a person who seems to be facing the elites,” Sibaja considered.
5.- Political disappointment:
Costa Rica showed in this election its discontent with the political class, reflected in a record abstention rate.
40% of 3.5 million voters (within five million inhabitants) did not vote in the first round, where there were 25 presidential candidates, and more than 43% did not vote in the second.
The current president Carlos Alvarado, according to the Research Center for Political Studies (CIEP-UCR), has a 62% negative assessment by the population, and his group, the Citizen Action Party (PAC), did not win seats in Congress.
In terms of votes cast, Chaves’ support reached 29% of the voter registry.
The president-elect said he was aware that “the largest political party” in Costa Rica in the last elections “was abstentionism.”
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