Costa Rica chooses new president in conservative country split over gay rights | News | DW | 01.04.2018
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Costa Rica chooses new president in conservative country split over gay rights

Two men with the same surname but different political platforms are the presidential choices for Costa Rican voters. An ultraconservative preacher and a former labor minister see gay rights very differently.

Candidates Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado during a TV debate

Candidates Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado during a TV debate

As Costa Rican voter's began casting their ballots in a runoff election for the Latin American country's next president, opinion polls showed the two candidates in a virtual tie, with the only certainty that the winner will be named "Alvarado." However, the two men are not related.

Carlos Alvarado of the incumbent Citizens' Action Party stood on a platform of reining in the deficit, improving education and maintaining ecological standards. He was labor minister in the former government, in power since 2014.

Fabricio Alvarado is an evangelical pastor who heads the National Restoration Party — a party name that many construe as a loaded term for turning back the clock on equal rights. He came from nowhere in the first round of the presidential election held in February to head a field of 13 candidates with 25 percent of the vote, over Carlos Alvarado's 22 percent.

Neither of the candidates came close to the 40 percent of the votes needed to claim an outright victory.

The two men took opposing stands on a January ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) that had urged the recognition of same-sex marriages.

Fabricio Alvarado had a one-point lead going into the run-off

Fabricio Alvarado had a one-point lead going into the run-off

Fabricio Alvarado, conservative preacher

The 43-year-old Fabricio Alvarado slammed the IACHR ruling, calling it an affront to traditional values. He threatened to remove the country from the court's jurisdiction.

"We're united ... in defending life and family, but also to defend ethics and transparency and the battle against corruption," Fabricio Alvarado said in a video appeal to Catholics on Saturday. Catholics account for more than 60 percent of the population while evangelical Protestants represent about 20 percent.

Fabricio Alvarado is a former TV newscaster, a gospel singer and a member of the archconservative Protestant Pentecostal movement. He was endorsed last week by the candidate who came in third with 18 percent in the preliminary round, Antonio Alvarez. 

The National Restoration candidate cast his vote in a school in San Jose, surrounded by a sea of supporters. 

"I see an atmosphere of enthusiasm ... of patriotism, people hopeful and excited for a government that will once more turn its attention to those most in need," Fabricio Alvarado said.

Carlos Alvarado at a campaign rally

Carlos Alvarado at a campaign rally

Carlos Alvarado, former labor minister

The 38-year-old Carlos Alvarado was labor and social security minister in the last government and is a political scientist and writer. He studied literature at college, where he also sang in a rock and roll band. 

The previous president, Luis Guillermo Solis, had grown increasingly unpopular over the past year — not least because of a corruption scandal and partly because of his strong embrace of gay rights. In 2014, Solis ordered the gay pride flag to fly alongside the Costa Rican standard atop the presidential office to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. It was the first time any head of state had done so in the Americas, and it generated headlines around the world.

At a last-minute election rally Carlos Alvarado called on his supporters: "Let's go out and vote. Let's go out and win"

On the campaign trail, Francisco Alvarado lamented the international attention the gay-pride flag-raising had provoked. He said he would have favored "more positive news, like Costa Rica beating Mexico 3-0" at soccer.

Costa Rica has 3.3 million eligible voters. Polls close at 6 p.m. local time on Sunday (Monday 0100 UTC). The results should be known late Sunday or early Monday. The new president will be in power for a four-year term.

bik/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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