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06SANJOSE283 2006-02-06 23:15:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy San Jose
Cable title:  

ARIAS MAINTAINS SLIGHT LEAD THE DAY AFTER THE

Tags:   PGOV CS 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 SAN JOSE 000283 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV CS
SUBJECT: ARIAS MAINTAINS SLIGHT LEAD THE DAY AFTER THE
FEBRUARY 5 ELECTION

REF: SAN JOSE 270

Summary
--------


1. (U) With 89 percent of the polls reporting by the
afternoon of February 6, Oscar Arias of the National
Liberation Party (PLN) has 40.5 percent of the vote for
president and Otton Solis of the Citizens' Action Party (PAC)
40.3 percent. With only 3,250 votes separating the two
candidates, the final tally can still go either way. In the
57-member Legislative Assembly, PLN will be the largest party
with approximately 25 members and PAC the main opposition
party with 18 members. Other important parties are the
Libertarian Movement (ML) (6 members) and Social Christian
Unity Party (PUSC) (4 members). (Note: These numbers are
all projections.) PLN, ML, PUSC, and most of the
single-member parties support CAFTA-DR; PAC opposes the
treaty. There will be a mandatory manual recount of
presidential ballots lasting one to two weeks, but unless
there are fewer than 1,000 votes separating Arias and Solis,
we have been told we can expect to know who the winner is
tomorrow. End summary.

Presidential Election


--------------------------




2. (U) Although it appears that Oscar Arias will in the end
squeak into the presidency (he has been the frontrunner in
all polls since he announced his candidacy for president in
March 2004), the election was much, much closer than any
polling organization had predicted. Even exit polling showed
Arias, of the National Liberation Party (PLN), with a healthy
lead over his closest rival, Otton Solis, of the Citizens'
Action Party (PAC). The official results announced by the
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) of the first 89 percent of
polls reporting, however, showed only 3,250 votes separating
Arias (with 40.5 percent) and Solis (with 40.2 percent).

Legislative Election


--------------------------




3. (U) Oddly, while the polls greatly underestimated Solis's
strength as a presidential candidate, they were mostly on
target in the legislative race, at least according to current
projections. In the unicameral 57-member Legislative
Assembly, the PLN is expected to win 25 seats and PAC 18
seats. The other important parties will be the Libertarian
Movement (ML) with 6 seats and Social Christian Unity Party
(PUSC) with 4 seats. The remaining 4 seats may be divided
between 4 small parties. With regard to one of the first
major issues on the legislative agenda, there appears to be a
solid majority in favor of the U.S.-Central
American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
Only PAC is staunchly anti-CAFTA-DR; PLN, ML, PUSC, and most
of the single-member parties will support the treaty.

What Next?


--------------------------




4. (U) The remaining 11 percent of votes still to be counted
will probably tell us who the president will be and the exact
composition of the Legislative Assembly. We expect all the
votes to be tallied by the morning of February 7. Regardless
of who comes out ahead (or by how much), there will be a
mandatory manual recount that is likely to take one to two
weeks before an official winner is declared. Neither
candidate is likely to concede before the recount is complete.

Atmosphere on Election Day


--------------------------




5. (U) Embassy had 15 credentialed observers, including the
Ambassador, visiting some 30 polling places in four different
provinces on election day. The mood around the polls was
upbeat, even festive, though Costa Ricans told us the
election was "quiet" by historical standards. In fact, voter
turnout on February 5 continued a downward trend starting
from 1998. This election's turnout was 65 percent, compared
to 68 percent in 2002, 70 percent in 1998, and an average of
80 percent in the previous four elections.

Comment


--------------------------




6. (SBU) There is no doubt that Solis, the candidate against
the traditional parties, against economic reform, and against
CAFTA-DR, has won a moral victory. He did much better than
anyone, except Solis himself, had predicted. Arias, who on
election day (and before) was predicting an easy victory,
must be feeling a bit stunned by how close the election
turned out to be.



7. (SBU) Arias outspent Solis by many times and had a far
bigger and better established organization to back him up.
Arias also had stature, experience, vision, ideas, all
lacking in Solis. But Arias's famous arrogance hurt him. It
came out time and again in interviews when he effectively
declared himself the winner or compared himself to John
Kennedy. Costa Ricans don't like their leaders too high on
their horse. It also caused him to refuse to respond to
attacks and challenges from opponents like Solis. An
exaggerated confidence in victory caused the PLN to relax a
bit on election day. From our own observations, it looked
like Solis's supporters did a better job than Arias's of
providing transportation to voters who needed it to get to
the polls.
LANGDALE