Yesterday the people of Costa Rica went to the polls to choose a new President, all 57 members of the Asamblea (congress) and members of the 81 city or county councils. Jacqueline has some good posts here, here, and here on the election overall.
The vote for President is too close to call. We will probably have to wait for the official hand count of all the votes to know who will form the next government. As both men have very different policies I will delay an analysis of what the new president will mean for libertarians looking to Costa Rica as a possibly freer destination.
To me, and many other libertarians, the performance of the Movimiento Libertario, the former Libertarian Party, is of great interest. As documented here and here the ML abandoned libertarian principles in favor of a pragmatic approach because, as Otto Guevara, the party's presidential candidate, said “we need to be more moderate and move closer to the Costa Rican people if we are going to gain power.” Does abandoning principle “work”?
To answer this question lets look at how the “radical” hard core ML performed four years ago. In 2002 the ML received 1.7% of the vote for President and 9.34% of the vote for the Asamblea, electing six Diputados (congressmen). To do this they spent a bit more than US$ 200,000 in privately raised funds, explicitly rejecting government funds as immoral.
This time around, they spent roughly US$ 1,900,000 and accepted state funds. For President, Guevara received 8.4% of the vote (86.9% counted). For Diputado, the ML has received 9.08%. It seems that they have elected six, but one has a razor thin margin, which may just disappear when all the votes are counted. So far 83.4% have been processed.
The source for the numbers above is el Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones. The TSE is the government body in charge of elections. The numbers on the web page are provisional. The official numbers will come out in about two weeks, after the hand count. A note on the web page: It can only be viewed in IE. I have tried Firefox and Opera, neither can read it.
Internally, the ML was expecting 20% for both President and the Asamblea. This was widely leaked. On the 5th of January Otto said in an interview that they were going to get 23% or 24% for President and 12 to 19 seats in the Asamblea.
Since changing direction they have gotten many public figures to join the party. Mostly from PUSC, which has self destructed (more on that below), and some from a couple of small moribund parties. The ML had a slogan “cada día somos más” (“every day we are more”). Well, yes, more of the same. More of the same tired old, corrupt politicians of always. And now they are in the ML. Instead of fresh new faces, with bold new ideas, they ended up with the same old, tainted faces, with a bunch of “moderate” (as they put it) proposals that sounded just like everyone else.
Guevara and his group expelled the hard core libertarians, or as he called them “radicals”, from the party, saying that they were responsible for impeding the growth of the party. He said that by becoming “moderate” they would move closer to the Costa Rican people, thereby gaining many more votes.
So, they abandoned ideology, purged the “radicals” from the party, spent 9.5 times what they did before, and came out slightly worse. Maybe significantly worse if the seat that is hanging by a thread is lost.
Add to this that one of the two major parties, in fact the one currently in power, basically imploded. PUSC has been plagued by corruption scandals and the current President is very unpopular. Their Presidential candidate only received 3.4% of the vote. For the Asamblea they only received 7.6%. Yet the ML did not benefit from PUSC's demise. Not a single seat. Can you imagine the Republican Party in the United States self destructing and the LP failing to gain anything from that?
This was a clear abject failure. So much so that last night Guevara did not talk to the press. He only made a 15 minute speech and then left the election night party. Today he is nowhere to be seen. Contrast this with the 13 other Presidential candidates, some who did much worse numerically. All of them are talking to the press, all of them are participating in the analysis of the results. All except Guevara.
What would have happened if the ML had remained hard core? We will never know the answer to this question, but I will offer a possible scenario.
In September of 2004 I saw the results of an internal poll which said that the entire Libertarian message was very popular with 25% of the population. Many positions were supported by the majority of the people. The main problem seemed to be that the ML had not effectively communicated the message. For example 70% of the population was opposed to government funding of political campaigns. Yet only 15% was aware that the ML did not accept state funds. When speakers would talk to small groups of people, communicating a hard core message, they would get enthusiastic responses, including offers of help. The big challenge was figuring out how to package the message into 30 second TV spots and getting the funds to take it to the people.
There were very creative people in the party. This problem was being addressed. If it had been solved, then a hard core ML would have elected 14 or 15 Diputados and been a significant force in the legislature. Possibly being able to advance Freedom a little bit. Sadly, we will never know.