Candidates of the Movimiento Libertario appear to have won ten percent of the seats in Costa Rica’s congress in the election of Feb. 3, making it the most successful libertarian party in the world. As this is being written, the ML has captured four out of the 57 congressional seats, its candidate is leading by a small but relatively safe margin (277 votes) in a f
and another ML candidate trails by only nine votes in a sixth. Recounts will determine the definitive winners by March 15. Nationwide, the ML received about 140,000 votes for congress, which represents 9.33% of the total, and is more than triple ML/s 1998 vote. And the ML performed well nearly everywhere, capturing 2.7% to 11.8% of the vote in every province, failing to come within 2% of electing a congressman in all but one.
The ML is pleased with how the election turned out, and will be even more pleased if it wins the sixth seat, which would ~ve libertarians about 10% of the congressional seats. In the United States this would be the equivalent of ten senators and 44 congressmen. Of course, it was very unlikely that at this stage the ML/s presidential candidate, Otto Guevara, would win the presidency, although at one point he attracted 10% of preferences in an opinion poll.
For the first time in history, Costa Rica/s minor parties prevented both of the traditional parties/presidential candidates from obtaining the required 40% to avoid a runoff. This sent a very loud message to the political oligarchy that has· ruled this country for many years.
The Movimiento Libertario is proving that a principled, morally centered libertarianism can attract many voters in a relatively short time. When the ML was founded six years ago, the libertarian approach was unknown in Costa Rica. When I first approached Otto, today’s most popular libertarian in Costa Rica asking whether he knew about libertarianism, he said: “No, what the heck is that?” The Movimiento Libertario has come a long way since then!
One thing that has been very exciting is the great support the ML is receiving from young people, not only young voters/ but high-school and college students who will first vote in 2006. Part of the reason is the natural rebelliousness of youth – libertarians are rebellious against the current political establishment, to say the least – but it/s also because of the advances in technology that make these young people more self-reliant and unwilling to accept government control over their lives. Anyway, the ML plans to increase dramatically its activity in high schools and colleges in the near future.
The Movimiento Libertario’s Campaign Strategy
During the first months of the campaign, the Movimiento concentrated on a presidential campaign through TV ads. Since Otto had been chosen best congressman in many public opinion polls and by the news media, it had a good spokesman. Still, only about 60% of Costa Ricans knew of him on July 16, the day the ads began running. By the end of the campaign, his name recognition was 94.5%.
ML’s objective was to run a serious presidential campaign that would discuss libertarian ideas and gain enough attention to be. invited to a nationally televised debate with the traditional party candidates. The ML achieved that. In his conclusion in the debate, Otto asked for support for Movimiento congressional candidates, and appealed to viewers to split their vote, which is fairly common in Costa Rica. (That is, many people voted for a presidential candidate who really has a chance to win the presidential race, but support the congressional candidates of another party.) So, when Otto’s presidential preference was pushing 10% and the ML congressional preference was much lower, they
The TV campaign, including production cost, absorbed 87% of its campaign costs; another five percent went for radio and newspaper advertising.
changed the message and became the only one of the four leading parties to focus on getting more congressional votes. The result was a fast decline in Otto’s presidential preference and a big increase in congressional preference. In the end Otto only got 1.68% of the presidential preference (about 25,000 votes), but helped the Movimiento achieve its main goal of more congressional seats. And it laid the groundwork for the presidential campaign in 2006.
Cost of the Campaign
The ML spent about $217,000 for the 2002 campaign, with many of its contributions coming in late, enabling it to have more television advertising as the election got closer. The TV campaign, including production costs, absorbed 87% of its campaign costs; another five percent went for radio and newspaper ads during the last two weeks, and the remainder was spent on fliers, billboards, flags, T-shirts, caps, and bumper stickers. Nothing was spent on salaries, since all work was done by volunteers, and there were no office rental costs, since all locales were donated, including a party headquarters office in San Jose during the last two months of the campaign.
As libertarians the Movimiento refused any government funds for its campaign, and was the only party to do so. But preliminary estimates indicate that the ML would have been entitled to about $811,000, nearly four times what it spent! You can bet that the Movimiento will publicize this, as well as criticize the other parties for accepting such funds.
No party even came close to getting a majority of congressional seats. With Congress widely split among four parties, the ML’s negotiating power will increase significantly from its current l-against-56, David vs. Goliath situation. This should enable it to push forward some items in the libertarian agenda during the next four years, and to block even more legislation that violates rights.
But most importantly, there will be an increased discussion of libertarian ideas throughout the country. The Movimiento Libertario is a topic of study for high-school and college students, who regularly visit its congressional office to learn more about libertarianism. And the news media give libertarian positions a prominent place. Further, the ML’s website in Spanish includes current congressional topics, positions and proposals, libertarian comics (a favorite), books, the test to find out if one is a libertarian, and much more.
ML also maintains an English website, a font of information about the revolution that is happening in Costa Rica. You can find it at www.libertario.org/en/.