Conservative Christian singer leads Costa Rica presidential election

Wiki Media

An evangelical candidate who soared in the polls after coming out strongly against same-sex marriage and a governing party loyalist who favors it led returns in Sunday's presidential election in Costa Rica and were poised to face each other in a runoff two months from now.

Polls closed yesterday evening, with initial results expected by 8pm.

If no candidate wins at least 40 per cent of Sunday's vote, a run-off election with the top two finishers is set for early April.

Costa Rica's 3.3 million residents are predominantly Roman Catholic and most consider themselves conservative.

The race is largely upended by a debate over gay rights as many candidates in the crowded field strongly oppose same-sex marriage, which many Latin American countries have recently instated.

"This is the first time I'm voting".

"None of them really grabs my attention", said Berlioth Hidalgo, a 35-year-old cleaning worker who has not yet fixed on any candidate.

Following last month's decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Fabricio Alvarado, a 43-year-old journalist with a prominent career as a preacher and Christian singer, vaulted to 16.9 percent in a survey published January 31 by the University of Costa Rica's Center for Research in Political Sciences, or CIEP.

Fabricio Alvarado, the conservative frontrunner, has pledged to withdraw the country from the court's jurisdiction in order to protect what many view as Costa Rica's traditional values.

She said she was anxious about one of the candidate's "homophobic discourse" and had urged her family to vote "so that someone who wants to take rights away from people doesn't win".

Running a close second to Alvarado in one recent opinion poll, conservative Juan Diego Castro, a former justice minister, is aiming to lure voters with an anti-crime platform, as well as pushing for less restrictions on miners and oil companies.

Carlos Alvarado, who is not related to Fabricio, is also a young candidate at just 38, a journalist by profession who began his political career as communications director for the Citizens' Action Party and served as labor minister under current President Luis Guillermo Solis. Trailing behind Alvarado is Antonio Álvarez Desanti, a banana businessman and candidate of the National Liberation Party, which has won the presidency in nine out of the 16 elections.

"I've been surprised by the growth of minority parties", said voter Olman Gomez, 49, a computer network engineer.

He is barred by law from seeking a second consecutive term.

Solis gained global attention after flying a rainbow flag, along with the Costa Rican flag, above his office after giving a statement against homophobia. Costa Rica's constitution establishes Catholicism as the state religion, though it does not prevent the free exercise of other religions.

"The next president has to get into the hard issues in the country and not be in fights over religion", said Ronald Pina, a 45-year-old government worker in the upper middle class Escazu neighborhood of San Jose.

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