Monday, June 08, 2009

Laura Chinchilla wins ruling party's primary vote

Laura Chinchilla meets and greets supporters gathered in celebration after she clinched the National Liberation Party's primary election on Sunday (Photo: Ronald Reyes/Tico Times)By Chrissie Long
Tico Times Staff

Laura Chinchilla beat her National Liberation Party rivals in a primary election victory Sunday that puts her in line to seek to become Costa Rica's first female president.

With less than 20 percent of the votes counted Sunday evening, party officials said the former vice president Chinchilla came in 10 percentage points ahead of former San Jose mayor Johnny Araya.

San Jose came alive throughout the day as campaign flags flapped outside honking vehicles, green and white paraphernalia decorated streets and buildings and voters clogged traffic in a day at the polls to choose the governing National Liberation Party's (PLN) presidential candidate.

"It's beautiful," said Norma Cecilia Castro, as she directed voters to tables in the Liceo de San Jose school in Barrio Mexico. "There is a lot of voting and the people are happy."

Pointing to a line of voters 12 deep, she said, "Look at the lines. It's wonderful."

"It's an important day," said Gonzalo UreƱa, helping the Laura Chinchilla campaign in the center of Escazu. "For the first time, we are going to elect a woman to the presidency; a woman with power, a woman with principles and values and someone who will carry on the good work of this government."

Two weeks before the election, Chinchilla was 11 percentage points ahead in the polls. Said to have current President Oscar Arias's support, Chinchilla represents a continuation of his government to many voters.

The poll, conducted by Unimer for the daily La Nacion, was a call to arms for Araya and his followers. During the primary election, Araya supporters had a fleet of cars on hand streaming back and forth from voters' homes, hoping to collect a few last votes.

In stark contrast to last week's convention, in which the opposition group Citizen Action Party (PAC) hosted its first primary (with voting limited to registered party members and less than 30 percent turnout), the PLN's polling stations were celebrations in themselves, with loud music blasted over speakers, children chasing after balloons and neighbors chatting in long lines.

Chinchilla will face the PAC's candidate Otton Solis, along with a slew of other candidates from smaller parties in February 2010.

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