- Category: The Nation
- Published on Sunday, July 04 2010 11:19
- Written by Rod Hughes
- Hits: 1081
If ever a political party was star-crossed, it is Social Christian Unity! Yet, despite frequent bouts with ill-fortune, the party has won numerous elections as a power in a near-exclusive two-party system. Until the last two elections, that is.
Now, three aspirants are vying for party leadership to save it from political oblivion. But hope comes naturally to politicians, as is shown by candidates written off by pundits, who speak confidently of a last minute surge of support at the polls.
Indeed, current party president Luis Fishman did exactly this in the 2009 campaign, despite having been drafted late in the campaign after the resignation of regular presidential candidate, former president Rafael Angel Calderon. The party lost, garnering the lowest number of votes in its history. By political standards, the would-be party leaders are young and speak of the long term, recouping former glory in 8, 12 or even 16 years.
The oldest, 50, is Humberto Vargas, an engineer and businessman. The other two, Jorge Eduardo Sanchez and Gerardo Vargas, are 31. Whoever wins the power struggle will face a daunting task that might even strain St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.
Just how daunting is measured by the reason for Calderon having to step down as candidate: he had just been convicted on corruption charges. (The ruling is under appeal currently.) Not only that, another Unity ex-president, Miguel Angel Rodriguez, is currently on trial for corruption and influence peddling.
The indictments of both Calderon and Rodriguez came during the term of another Unity president, the squeaky-clean Abel Pacheco who, characteristically, did not try to use presidential influence to get the charges quashed as might have been done some decades ago. Pacheco himself, although untouched by scandal, is viewed by many as having been a weak president who could not leverage a consensus among lawmakers to get his agenda through.
Moreover, all the aspirants face a prospect of having to wrest control from Calderon whose venerated father, Rafael Angel Sr., was president before him and is still honored for such reforms as starting the Social Security Administration. Calderon (often referred to as "Junior") has wielded increasing powers within Unity, to growing restiveness of some members.
Ironically, Unity was started as the second broad-based party in the country, the first being National Liberation. Before then, parties had been the personal creations of a strong leader, known as a "caudillo," a strong man working within the democratic system but whose personality dominated party affairs.
Disgruntled party members call Calderon such a caudillo and the three challengers, especially Gerardo Vargas, promise an open party free of "owners," an obvious stab at Calderon. (Fishman is regarded as having been handpicked by Calderon as both presidential standard bearer and party president.)
But even in its beginning, Unity had ill luck. It was created by President Rodrigo Carazo's closest supporters from several like-minded small parties (hence, Unity). Carazo was elected in 1978, following two terms of free-spending Liberation presidents, Jose (Don Pepe) Figueres and Daniel Oduber. He also incurred more foreign debt.
Then, in late 1980, the price of coffee, the main export at the time, dropped on the world market, triggering Costa Rica's worst economic crisis. Carazo had been dealt a bad hand but played it badly as well, ignoring advice of his astute Finance Minister Leonel Baruch, desperately trying, in a state of denial, to hold the line, only worsening the crisis
In 1981, graffiti appeared on walls throughout the capital and main cities: "One more year and never more." (Un ano mas y jamas.) Indeed, it was eight more years before Unity won another presidential election--not a promising start for a political party. But it is also reason not to count out the party--it did win again.