SAN JOSE – Costa Ricans headed to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and 57 members of Congress.
The polls opened at 6:00 a.m. and were scheduled to close at 6:00 p.m., with more than 2.8 million people eligible to vote in this Central American nation.
The leading candidates started the day with a Mass, then they cast their ballots and set out to visit different parts of the country.
Eight of the nine presidential candidates attended the Mass at the San Jose Cathedral.
Of the nine candidates, only ruling National Liberation Party, or PLN, candidate Laura Chinchilla and opposition candidates Otton Solis, of the center-left Citizen Action Party, or PAC, and Otto Guevara, of the rightist Libertarian Movement, have a real shot at winning.
Solis did not make it to the Mass in San Jose because he is registered to vote in Perez Zeledon, a rural town some 135 kilometers (84 miles) southeast of the capital.
Solis, however, attended Mass in his hometown after having breakfast with his mother and milking one of his family’s cows.
Polls ahead of the election showed Chinchilla drawing the support of slightly more than 40 percent of voters, while Solis and Guevara were in a dead heat with around 20 percent support each.
“It’s going to be an election day of respect and harmony, like it has always been in Costa Rica,” Chinchilla said.
Guevara, for his part, predicted that he would win a “sweeping” victory, especially “in the marginal provinces” plagued by high poverty rates.
Solis called on Costa Ricans to vote and “participate in this citizens’ party.”
The candidates are vying to succeed President Oscar Arias, who defeated Solis in a tight election four years ago.
Initial election results were expected to be released around 8:00 p.m., the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, said.
Some 200 foreign election observers are monitoring the electoral process in Costa Rica.