It was a monumental day in Costa Rican history; a day that was a long time coming but one that no one was sure would actually arrive; a day that demonstrated to the world, and to Costa Ricans themselves, that gender was only a word when it comes to politics. On that day, the Costa Rican people were proud to say they had elected their first female President.
That was February 7, 2010, and boy, how things have changed.
The 2014 Costa Rican election season is now officially in full swing. With all presidential candidates named, there are six frontrunners who will vie to take over the country’s presidency in elections that will take place on February 2 of next year.
In the six candidates, there is a little bit of everything from the far left and the right to the environmentally conscious. A noticeably glaring omission, however, is something that the nation four years ago was proud to claim as their own: a female candidate.
While it’s naïve to chalk the omission up to a coincidence, the all-male field may be more representative of disdain for current President Laura Chinchilla than it does mark a change in national opinion regarding female leaders. Chinchilla may have been elected by a solid majority, but Election Day 2010 was by far the best day of her almost four year tenure.
Earning 47 percent of the vote, her approval rating was as high as it would ever be. Six months after the election, a study by national newspaper La Nación showed that only nine out of 100 Costa Ricans thought she was doing a bad job, with 41 percent saying she was doing either a good or great job. If we compare that with a recent study by La Nación, those numbers have done a complete 180. The study in July of this year showed that only 9 out of 100 gave their approval, with an overwhelming 60 percent disapproving of her efforts. More to the point, Chinchilla has the lowest approval rating of any of the last six Costa Rican governments.
On an international level, Chinchilla was also deemed in a 2012 study to have the lowest public approval rating of any president on the entire American continent. The precedent of female leaders in Costa Rica hasn’t been off to a great start.
The only woman who showed intent to run this time around was a former legislator named Epsy Campbell, and she failed to win her party’s nomination.
This round of candidates, though, is certainly not without faults. Otto Guevara, who is aspiring to the presidency for the third time and currently sits in second place in the polls, has legal cases pending against him for what are being called “financial irregularities” in his last campaign. The current leader in the polls, former San José mayor Johnny Araya Monge, demonstrated a disconnect with the voters last week when acknowledging ignorance on the cost of common household items.
But Laura Chinchilla they are not. Electing the first female President in the country’s history — and in such emphatic fashion — was and will continue to be a great moment for Costa Rica. After such a tumultuous term, however, every political party — including her own — with their nomination of all male candidates has stated that a break is needed. When elections happen once again in 2018, we will see how much of a stain Chinchilla has truly made in the eyes of Costa Ricans.