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Elections: shift to the left?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

This is an election year for half of the Central American nations, as voters in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama prepare to go to the polls, with the possibility that in two cases politics could swing to the left.

Costa Rica's election, to be held on February 2, involves a three-way contest among Johnny Araya of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN in its Spanish initials), José María Villalta of the leftist Broad Front, and Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement.

Most surveys point to a return to office by the PLN.

The problem for the Broad Front is persuading voters, most of them historically moderate, that the party would not be a local version of Venezuelan-style socialism.

On the other hand, the young (36) Villalta has been rising in opinion polls, as many Costa Ricans seem resistant to the idea of electing a president from a party, whose performance during the past four years is widely seen as inefficient.

The candidate of the ruling party in El Salvador likewise may be too far left to be elected.

A guerilla fighter during the 1980s civil war, Salvador Sanchez of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN in its Spanish initials), is currently in second place in voter popularity at 25%, behind Norman Quijano of the rightwing Arena party, who leads with 29%, according to a poll published this week in the Prensa Grafica.

At the same time, Quijano’s support has been slipping during the past six months, while that of Sanchez has been growing.

The country’s dismal economic performance during the current FMLN administration of Mauricio Funes is one of the challenges facing Sanchez.

On the other hand, Funes’ personal popularity is a factor in Sanchez’ favor.

Former president Antonio Saca of Unidad trails at 18%.

El Salvador likewise goes to the polls on February 2.

Panamanians will choose among three main candidates, all from moderate parties, in elections to be held May 4.

José Domingo Arias of the incumbent center-right Democratic Change party, has the support of 30% of voters, according to a December 2013 Dichter & Neira poll.

Juan Carlos Navarro of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, and Juan Carlos Varela of the Panameñista Party, trail with 25% and 23%, respectively.

Among the reasons for Arias’ support is enthusiasm over the inauguration in Panama City of the region’s first metro system, expected within the next few months.

In addition, Panama’s economy has been strong throughout the administration of current President Ricardo Martinelli.

At the same, the survey was taken before a surprising claim made last week by the consortium, which is building a new set of locks for the Panama Canal.

The consortium wants $1.6 billion in additional costs, a figure which represents no less than 50% of the original budget for the lock project.