February 22, 2006

Recount shows Arias ahead in Costa Rica vote

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) - A recount in Costa Rica's
February 5 presidential election appears to give a narrow
victory to former President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize
laureate, but the winner will not be declared until complaints
over alleged irregularities are resolved.

The president of the country's Supreme Elections Tribunal,
Oscar Fonseca, said on Wednesday that more than 500 complaints
lodged by political parties must be settled before a winner can
be announced.

He did not say how long the process will take.

The tribunal has not yet announced a final vote count, but
has released precinct-by-precinct vote totals over the past two
weeks, which appear to give Arias a winning margin of more than
18,000 votes over Otton Solis of the Citizen's Action Party.

In counts by Reuters and the local media of the tribunal's
numbers, Arias won 40.9 percent of the vote compared to 39.8
percent for Solis.

Arias is a moderate who supports free trade with the United
States. Many in Costa Rica believe a close election victory
will make it harder for him to win approval for the Central
America Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA.

Solis, who wants to renegotiate CAFTA, appeared on national
television Tuesday night calling for a new recount in 712
precincts where he said irregularities occurred.

The tribunal did not agree to another recount but said it
will investigate all the challenges.

Both candidates have pledged not to declare victory or
concede defeat until the tribunal announces a winner.

Costa Rica, a producer of high-quality coffee, sees itself
as more orderly than the rest of Central America. It abolished
the army in 1948 and avoided the civil wars that rent much of
the region in the 1980s.

But its reputation has been tarnished by a series of
corruption scandals in recent years. Two former presidents were
jailed briefly in 2004 on charges of receiving bribes from
foreign countries.