San Jose: Costa Ricans could elect their first female president on Sunday as Central America`s most politically and economically stable country chooses between a career politician from the ruling party and an anti-taxation Libertarian.
Pre-election polls gave a nearly 20-point lead to Laura Chinchilla, who served as vice president under current President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and free market enthusiast.
Otto Guevara, of the Libertarian Movement Party, emerged as Chinchilla`s biggest challenger. He promised to lower taxes, dismantle monopolies and adopt the US dollar as the country`s currency.
Otton Solis, who barely lost the Presidential Election to Arias in 2006, came in third in the opinion polls.
Sunday`s winner needs at least 40 percent of the vote to avoid an April run-off.
If victorious, Chinchilla has pledged to continue Aria`s moderate free-market policies that brought Costa Rica into the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and initiated trade relations with China after a 63-year association with Taiwan.
But critics of the government say Arias catered to big developers to boost the economy at the cost of the nation`s fragile ecosystems.
Both Solis and Guevara portrayed Arias` centrist National Liberation Party as stagnate and ridden with old-school Latin American crony politics.
It was unclear whether the National Liberation Party had the strength to win a legislative majority in Sunday`s voting.
But most Costa Ricans appeared reluctant to shake up the status quo in a country with relatively high salaries, the longest life-expectancy in Latin America, a thriving eco-tourism industry and near-universal literacy.
Chinchilla, as a 50-year-old mother and a social conservative who opposes abortion and gay marriage, appealed both to Costa Ricans seeking a fresh face in politics and those reluctant to risk the unknown.
If Chinchilla wins, she would become Latin American`s fifth female president. Nicaragua, Panama, Chile and Argentina have all elected women as presidents.