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Polls close in Costa Rica, election likely to go into runoff


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SAN JOSE — Costa Rica’s polls closed on Sunday afternoon in an election that will likely head into a second round as none of the record 25 candidates vying to succeed outgoing President Carlos Alvarado emerged as a clear favorite.

No candidate, including former President Jose Maria Figueres, is expected to win more than 40% of votes, the threshold to avoid a runoff between the two top vote-getters, according to a poll published on Tuesday by the University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Political Studies. All 57 seats of the unicameral legislative assembly are also up for grabs.

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A second-round of voting would take place April 3.

Victor Salazar, a 63-year-old driver, said he had been “very indecisive” about who to cast his vote for.

“I was very hesitant, but duty had to be fulfilled,” he said but declined to elaborate. “In the end, I voted for the one I think has the best chance of winning in a second round.”

Lines in San Jose had grown longer towards the end of the day as more apparently undecided citizens made a last minute dash.

Costa Ricans have said they want their next leader to tackle corruption and high unemployment rates during the four-year term.

Costa Rica’s electoral tribunal reported voting was going smoothly across the country.

In the capital San Jose, Enrique Romero, a 52-year-old construction worker, said he would vote for Figueres.

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“I want things to improve, that the government functions better,” Romero said. “The situation is critical. It is not about going back to the past but about moving forward and learning from experience.”

Figueres, who governed from 1994 to 1998 under the centrist National Liberation Party, held a tentative lead in the opinion polls at about 17% of the vote.

The center-left Alvarado cannot seek a second consecutive term.

About a third of the voters in the Central American nation of about 5 million people had not made up their minds about who to back ahead of the election, according to opinion polls.

Victor Morales, a 56-year-old who sells flags, was among those undecided.

“My business has dropped due to the bad governments we have had,” Morales said. “Before, people used to rally to support political parties.”

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The ruling center-left Citizen Action (PAC) party, which has been in power for two terms, received less than 1% of support in the Center for Research and Political Studies poll.

The national assembly, among other responsibilities, is due to negotiate important financial support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In the poll, conservative former Vice President Lineth Saborio (2002-2006) of the center-right Christian Social Unity (PUSC) party had 13% support and evangelical preacher Fabricio Alvarado of the neo-Pentecostal New Republic Party had 10%.

The first report from the nation’s electoral authority is due at 8:45 p.m. local time Sunday (0245 GMT on Monday). (Reporting by Alvaro Murillo in San Jose; Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Will Dunham, Aurora Ellis and Chris Reese)

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