(Update 1: changes head, updates figures, new details throughout, adds remarks by Figueres, Chaves)
San Jose, Feb 6 (EFE).- Costa Rica is set for a runoff election on Apr. 3 after a close first round on Sunday, which was won by former president José María Figueres, followed by economist Rodrigo Chaves in a surprise result.
With 63.9 percent of the polling stations counted, Figueres obtained 27.4 percent of the votes, followed by Chaves with 16.7 percent, while the evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado of the New Republic Party slipped from second to third with 15.4 percent, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (SET).
Voter absenteeism stands at 40.7 percent, the highest ever in the country’s history.
The SET will finish disclosing the preliminary results on Monday and the final counting of votes will begin on Tuesday. The electoral authority is expected to declare the official results in the next few days.
What is certain, however, is that there will be a second round on Apr. 3, since none of the candidates secured the more than 40 percent of the votes needed to win outright in the first round.
In his first statements, Figueres of the National Liberation Party described the result as “extraordinary” and said that he was “one step away from starting the rescue and transformation of Costa Rica.”
“We won this first round by a robust margin and that also gives us a huge responsibility, so from tomorrow we will continue the tireless work (…) The time we live in is extraordinary in many ways, it is a time of urgent challenges such as the tragedy of unemployment and the highest level of poverty in decades,” Figueres added.
The 67-year-old promised to fight for citizen’s rights and support small, medium and large entrepreneurs to generate opportunities and employment.
“We want Costa Rica to regain foreign direct investment, a government that supports entrepreneurs, brave people who go forth and people who ‘wrangle’ it (…) We are going to make Costa Rica a leader in the global energy transition, a connected and bilingual country that opens us up to opportunities and the world,” Figueres said.
Chaves, of the Social Democratic Progress Party, celebrated his entry into the runoff and thanked his family and voters for their support in what he described as “a civic, democratic celebration that few nations in the world can afford.”
“We are going to a second round, yes, the new party, the youngest of this campaign, but we are going to leave behind the fires, the conflict, the futile confrontation, and I ask you to work together to create consensus to reorient the country’s course and promote renewed prosperity,” Chaves, 60, said in a speech.
“Our challenges as a country and society are enormous and we need a strong and united new government to move forward together in the face of the challenges and enormous promises that this blessed homeland has. We’re going to move forward and we’re going to come out fine,” he added.
Chaves promised initiatives to improve the country’s economy and to rule with justice if elected.
Sunday’s elections took place peacefully and without any serious irregularities, according to the electoral authorities.
The 6,767 polling centers in the country closed at 6 pm on Sunday after a 12-hour election day.
A record number of 25 candidates contested in Sunday’s elections, in which 3.5 million citizens were called to vote to elect the president and the 57 lawmakers who will make up the Legislative Assembly for the period between 2022 and 2026.
All the candidates have acknowledged the results issued by the electoral tribunal so far. EFE