Elections in Costa Rica | Rodrigo Chaves, new president: who is the controversial economist who promises to be a radical change from traditional politics

The economist Rodrigo Chaves will be the new president of Costa Rica after the elections this Sunday and after his rival, José María Figueres, conceded defeat.

With more than 95% of the tables counted, the politician from the Social Democratic Progress Party (PSD) is in the lead with 52.9%, while his opponent from the National Liberation Party (PLN) has 47.1%.

In his first message, the elected president promoted the union and asked for the support of the opposition.

“I send a message to José Maria (Figueres) and to all the people who voted for him. I congratulate him for his chivalry and I ask Don José and his party to work together”, he said. “I ask that we all unite under the blue, white and red of our national symbol, of the flag,” he added.

Chaves also spoke directly to the thousands of Costa Ricans who did not vote this Sunday in a second electoral round marked by abstention.


“Unfortunately, the harsh campaign that we experienced turned abstentionism into the largest political party in Costa Rica. This is a sad reality that we must understand and accept. This does not mean that the compatriots who did not go to the polls do not love Costa Rica or its democracy. They are probably the most critical and concerned about the future of the country who wanted to shake the conscience of the ruling class in an exercise of authentic democracy”, she maintained.

According to data from the Electoral Court, this Sunday there was an abstention of 42.85%, even higher than that of the first round, which had already been a record then. 3.5 million Costa Ricans were summoned to the polls.

Chaves said that he will take it as a “warning” that will encourage him to work for “new consensus” to “restore their trust.”

Rodrigo Chavez


For his part, Figueres conceded victory to his opponent earlier in the evening.

“I congratulate Rodrigo Chaves and wish him the best,” he said. “Costa Rica has voted and the people have spoken. We, as Democrats, will always be respectful of that decision,” added Figueres, who was president in 1994.

The industrial engineer told a group of supporters that his country lives in a “state of emergency.” Given this, he called on the union and indicated that he is available to “help rescue Costa Rica.”

“I still think that Costa Rica is in a deep crisis,” he said. “Faced with this crisis and this emergency, it is time to leave behind a message of antagonism, of hatred, of division and move forward among all of us, putting differences aside,” she commented.

Jose Maria Figueres

José María Figueres conceded victory earlier in the evening, but said in his speech that he considers Costa Rica to be in a “crisis”. He claimed to be willing to help the nation out of the “emergency.”

The country held this Sunday the second round of the presidential elections after in the first round, held in February, no candidate obtained 40% of the votes necessary for the position.

The elections took place at a time when the Central American country is experiencing an erosion in its welfare economy.

According to a survey by the University of Costa Rica, unemployment and the economy were the biggest concerns of Costa Ricans (29.1% and 17.8%), well above corruption (10.6%), which he splashed Carlos Alvarado, the president who leaves power, and who reduced his popularity to a minimum.

Faced with these problems, Costa Ricans gave their trust to Chaves, but who is the new president of the country for the next four years?

the outsider

Chaves, a 60-year-old economist, caused a surprise by reaching the second electoral round after not appearing among the two favorites in the first round. However, this considered “outsider” or almost unknown in Costa Rican politics will become its next president.

Picture of Rodrigo Chaves

Rodrigo Chaves is an economist who was Costa Rica’s Minister of Finance and worked at the World Bank.

He will do so between accusations of sexual harassment in the past and after adopting a confrontational style in the campaign – branded “populist” by analysts – and dedicating harsh attacks to the country’s traditional parties, represented by his rival Figueres. “Don’t give the keys to the same old people”, was one of his most repeated phrases.

Chaves has a high academic profile after earning a doctorate in economics from Ohio University in the United States and receiving a fellowship from Harvard University to study poverty issues in Asia.

It also boasts a broad international career in the economic field. For nearly 30 years, he worked for the World Bank and eventually became director of its office in Indonesia.

In Costa Rica, however, he was only known until now for his brief stint as the country’s finance minister for just six months, in which he tried to revive a seriously affected country’s economy in the midst of the pandemic.

After launching some controversial measures and maintaining differences with the government of the current president, Charles Alvaradoresigned in May 2020.

It was last July when he surprised by announcing himself as the candidate of the Social Democratic Progress Party, an unknown formation created just three years earlier with which he will now reach the Presidential House.

Precisely his lack of political experience has been one of the biggest criticisms he had to face in the campaign, as well as the lack of clarity about who will make up his future government team or regarding some important issues in the country.


Getty Images
Chaves, of the Social Democratic Progress Party, is a renowned economist.

“Chaves is a person with good training and he is a technocrat, but without that knowledge of the country that Figueres is recognized for. Also, he doesn’t have a team, or hasn’t disclosed it. Being such a new party, he himself has said that he needs more people to join his ranks, ”says Costa Rican analyst Valeria Vargas.

“We do not know for sure very well how your party thinks, it has remained very silent. your deputies [elegidos en primera vuelta y provenientes de distintos partidos] They do not have a very clear position due to the great issues of the country, ”he tells BBC Mundo.

Harassment and populism

In his campaign debates, as in those of Figueres, personal attacks on his rival predominated more than the exposition of ideas of his government program.

With the use of informal slogans such as “I eat the anger” or his reiterated desire to “order the house” with a change, Chaves tried to connect with the Costa Rican population tired of traditional politicians through a direct, confrontational discourse and sometimes seen as prepotent.

“They tell me that I am very arrogant and very dictatorial, but I think I say things as they are and people don’t like it,” he said on the campaign trail.

In his words “there are very latent populist and sexist elements, even jokes with a sexual connotation. This can be rejected in urban and highly educated environments, but they can be essential to be supported in other parts of the country,” Costa Rican political scientist Daniel Calvo predicted for BBC Mundo before knowing the result.

But the great controversy that undoubtedly surrounds the figure of Chaves are the complaints of sexual harassment he received from World Bank employees between 2008 and 2013 while he worked at the agency, and which earned him internal sanctions.

The economist described the accusations as “gossip and lies” and assured that it was all a “misunderstanding” due to “jokes and jokes” that he made to his companions.

However, Chaves was attacked on this issue by his opponents and by civil rights groups, such as women’s groups that came out to protest his election on March 8.


Getty Images

“The feminist movements in Costa Rica wonder about the relevance of having a president who is so questioned at this level. In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the resounding no to sexual harassment, to street harassment, which is why it has generated a lot of resentment on a social level”, highlights analyst Vargas.

“The questions about both candidates (accusations of harassment against Chaves and accusations of corruption against Figueres) will continue for a few more years. And without a doubt, for whoever is president it becomes more complex because it is practically fuel so that social protest can become an important weapon,” Calvo predicted.

Attacks against the press and corruption

Chaves made the fight against corruption one of his banners, for which he blamed previous governments. For example, he proposed to attack it through a plan that would reward those who denounce these acts with money and penalize those who do not.

He also stated his intention to apply State reforms through a referendum if necessary. Among others, he spoke of a package of executive decrees to make services and basic goods cheaper.

Co-religionists of President Chaves celebrate his victory


Although barely developed in the campaign, his government plan is committed to actions in economic matters such as reducing paperwork and facilitating business action, attracting investment, generating employment, reducing social charges and support for the coastal sectors, which are the poorest in the country.

“Costa Rica is not a poor country, but a very poorly managed one,” has been one of the phrases most used by the now president-elect.

His candidacy was also characterized by his constant confrontation with the press, which he said was biased, which has earned him comparisons with other leaders such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro or Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Another of his slogans was “Let’s make Costa Rica the happiest country in the world again”, similar to “Let’s make the US great again” used by the former US president.

In his last days of campaigning, Chaves flirted with evangelical sectors by signing an agreement with some of their representatives in which he promised to eliminate the so-called “gender ideology” in the educational system.

As in other Latin American countries, this movement has gained ground in Costa Rica in recent years. In 2018, the evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado was about to become president.

Rodrigo Chavez


Despite his victory this Sunday, the rejection generated by Chaves in part of the Costa Rican population and the high abstention this Sunday (which broke records again with a provisional 42.85%) makes experts predict that he could face a hectic mandate.

“Its populist and dictatorial dynamics have brought it into conflict with sectors such as women, culture, agriculture, etc.”, emphasizes the Costa Rican political scientist Gustavo Araya in a conversation with BBC Mundo.

“In addition to being a small party and having some proposals that create high expectations but very little possibility of being carried out, I would say that Chaves will have a much more convulsive period of government than the one that Figueres could have,” he concludes.

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