Rodrigo Chaves wins Costa Rica election amid sexual harassment allegations

A former finance minister who surprised many by making it into Costa Rica’s presidential runoff has easily won the election and is to become the Central American country’s new leader next month while still fending off accusations of sexual harassment when he worked at the World Bank.

With nearly all polling stations reporting, the conservative economist Rodrigo Chaves had 53% of the vote, compared with 47% for former president José Figueres Ferrer, the supreme electoral tribunal said.

More than 42% of eligible voters did not participate, an unusually low turnout for the country, reflecting the lack of enthusiasm Costa Ricans had for the candidates.

In his victory speech late on Sunday, Chaves called for unity to address problems such as unemployment and a soaring budget deficit.

“For me this is not a medal nor a trophy, but rather an enormous responsibility, heaped with challenges and difficulties that we will all resolve,” he said.

“Costa Rica, the best is to come!” Chaves said before celebrating supporters. His inauguration is scheduled for 8 May.

Figueres congratulated Chaves and wished him the best, adding that he continued to believe that Costa Rica was in a “deep crisis” and he was willing to help it recover.

Both men waged a bruising campaign.

Chaves’s campaign is under investigation by electoral authorities for allegedly running an illegal parallel financing structure. He also has been dogged by a sexual harassment scandal that drove him out of the World Bank.

While working at the bank, he was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, was eventually demoted and then resigned. He has denied the accusations.

The World Bank’s administrative tribunal last year criticized the way the case was initially handled internally.

The tribunal noted that an internal investigation found that from 2008 to 2013 Chaves leered at, made unwelcome comments about physical appearance, repeated sexual innuendo and unwelcome sexual advances toward multiple bank employees. Those details were repeated by the bank’s human resources department in a letter to Chaves, but it decided to sanction him for misconduct rather than sexual harassment.

“The facts of the present case indicate that [Chaves’s] conduct was sexual in nature and that he knew or should have known that his conduct was unwelcome,” the tribunal wrote. The tribunal also noted that in the proceedings, the bank’s current vice-president for human resources said in testimony “that the undisputed facts legally amount to sexual harassment”.

Political analyst Francisco Barahona said Costa Ricans’ lack of enthusiasm, as shown by the low turnout, was the result of the many personal attacks that characterized the campaign.

“For a lot of people it’s embarrassing to say they voted for one or the other, and many prefer to say they won’t vote for either of the candidates or simply won’t go to vote,” Barahona added.

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