SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — A former finance minister who surprised many by running in the second round of Costa Rica’s presidential election easily won the ballot and will become the Central American country’s new leader on next month, while fending off accusations of sexual harassment when he worked at the World Bank.
While nearly all polling stations reported on Sunday evening, conservative economist Rodrigo Chaves won 53% of the vote, compared to 47% for former President José Figueres Ferrer, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said.
In his victory speech, Chaves said he received the result with humility and called for unity to address issues such as unemployment and a growing budget deficit.
“For me, it’s not a medal or a trophy, but rather a huge responsibility, full of challenges and difficulties that we will all solve,” he said.
“Costa Rica, the best is yet to come! Chaves said before celebrating the fans. His inauguration is scheduled for May 8.
Figueres conceded defeat less than an hour after the results began. He had led the first round of voting on February 6, with Chaves second that day. Neither had come close to the 40% of the vote needed to avoid a second round.
“Costa Rica voted and the people spoke,” Figueres said. “As Democrats that we are, we will always respect this decision.”
He congratulated Chaves and wished him the best, adding that he continues to believe Costa Rica is going through a “deep crisis” and is ready to help them recover.
Figueres, who served as president of Costa Rica from 1994 to 1998, represents the National Liberation Party like his father, three-time president José Figueres Ferrer. Chaves served briefly in the administration of incumbent President Carlos Alvarado and represents the Social Democratic Progress Party.
Both men waged a murderous campaign that brought past controversies to light.
While working at the World Bank, he was accused of sexual harassment by several women, was eventually demoted and then resigned. He denied the charges.
Last year, the World Bank Administrative Tribunal criticized the way the case was initially handled internally.
The court noted that an internal investigation found that from 2008 to 2013, Chaves ogled, made unwelcome comments about physical appearance, repeated sexual innuendo and made unwelcome sexual advances towards several bank employees. These details were repeated by the bank’s human resources department in a letter to Chaves, but it decided to discipline him for misconduct rather than sexual harassment.
“The facts of this case indicate that (de Chaves’) conduct was sexual in nature and that he knew or should have known that his conduct was unwelcome,” the court wrote. The court also noted that in the proceedings, the bank’s current vice president of human resources testified “that the undisputed facts legally amount to sexual harassment.”
More than 3.5 million Costa Ricans were eligible to vote, but with many voters disappointed with the options, turnout was still below February’s 60%.
Lines formed before voting began at some polling stations in San Jose, the capital, while others appeared nearly empty.
Political analyst Francisco Barahona said Costa Ricans’ lack of enthusiasm was the result of the multitude of personal attacks that characterized the campaign.
“In the debates, they only heated things up in personal confrontations, mistreatment of each other,” he said. “They haven’t elaborated on their proposals to solve the country’s problems. The debates did not help motivate the electorate.
“For a lot of people it’s embarrassing to say they voted for one or the other, and many would rather say they won’t vote for any of the candidates or just won’t vote. “, added Barahona.
Figueres was asked about the $900,000 consulting fee he received after his presidency of telecommunications company Alcatel when it competed for a contract with the national electricity company. He has never been charged with any crime and has denied any wrongdoing.
While Costa Rica has enjoyed relative democratic stability compared to other countries in the region, the public has grown frustrated with public corruption scandals and high unemployment.