Nobel Laureate Leads Costa Rican Election

Polls have closed in Costa Rica as the country votes for a new leader in an election which could see the return of former President Oscar Arias.

With 50% of the votes counted, Mr Arias, head of the National Liberation Party, had 40.8% support compared with 40.2% for his rival Otton Solis. Centrist Mr Arias, 65, has enjoyed a big lead in opinion polls over his main rivals, Mr Solis and Otto Guevara.

Mr Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for work to halt regional conflict. Mr Solis heads the Citizens' Action Party. Television exit polls had earlier given Mr Arias a share of 45%. The top two candidates go through to a second round if the winner does not get at least 40%.

"At this hour we still don't know whether the president has been chosen or if his election will be delayed until 2 April," Oscar Foncesca of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said. The election comes amid wide disillusionment with politics after a string of corruption scandals in Costa Rica.

"Today, we'll make reality what the polls have been saying," said Mr Arias. Voting stations opened at dawn for the country's eligible 2.5 million voters, but attendance was reported to be thin all day. Polls closed at 1800 (0000 GMT).

Officials said the poll had one of the lowest turnouts in years but the election had proceeded peacefully.

Activists for the main parties drove through the streets of the capital San Jose honking horns and waving flags in a bid to drum up support. It contrasts to previous presidential elections, which are traditionally treated as a national holiday with people wearing party colours and driving through streets waving flags on the eve of voting, the Associated Press reports.

"This is a cold election because people are disillusioned with our politicians," Elena Hidalgo, a 52-year-old lawyer waiting to vote in San Jose, told AP.

Three former presidents have been accused of taking illicit payments from foreign companies. Two of them are on trial. Correspondents say many Costa Ricans see Mr Arias - who was president between 1986 and 1990 - as a politician untainted by the recent scandals. But his critics describe him as arrogant, reports BBC news.

I.L.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team