Costa Ricans vote in neck-and-neck election

Monitoring Desk

SAN JOSE: Pre-election surveys suggest a tight race between Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado with 43 percent and 42 percent voters’ support, respectively.

Costa Rica votes on Sunday in a presidential election that will see either an ultra-conservative evangelical preacher or an ex-minister from the ruling centre-left party become head of state.

The choice has divided the small Central American nation of five million people, pitting those who hold dear social conservatism and strong religious faith against others proud of the country’s strong record on human rights and tolerance.

The two candidates in the run-off election share several points in common: both have backgrounds as journalists, both are singers – and both share the same last name, though they are not related.

But they represent very different brands of politics and personal style.

Fabricio Alvarado, the preacher, surged from nowhere in the first round of the election held in February, triumphing over a field of 13 candidates by fiercely criticizing gay marriage.

The right-wing 43-year-old, a former TV reporter, has the fire and charisma of someone used to the pulpit.

Carlos Alvarado, in contrast, is as restrained as he was when he served as labor minister. The 38-year-old’s platform is broader and seeks continuity with the outgoing government on tackling the public deficit and boosting education.

In the first round, Fabricio Alvarado won 25 percent of the ballots against 22 percent for Carlos Alvarado – both well short of the 40 percent required to avoid a run-off.

“Both candidates are unknown for us,” said Ricardo Montoya, a 41-year-old bus driver.