(Bloomberg) -- A gay marriage controversy that turned Costa Rica’s presidential election on its head has pitted a Christian preacher against a ruling party candidate in an Easter Sunday runoff.
Fabricio Alvarado, a 43-year-old evangelical songwriter, led in the first round in February after he opposed a ruling by an international court that supported gay marriage in the Central American nation. He has since tried to broaden his appeal beyond his religious base by pledging to create jobs and curb the record fiscal deficit.
He’s up against Carlos Alvarado in the April 1 vote, a 38-year-old author and former rock singer who backed gay marriage, and who is also calling for spending curbs. The country received four downgrades over the last five years from the main ratings agencies and whoever wins will need to convince investors that they are serious about narrowing the deficit.
“It’s all about the fiscal deficit with this country,” said Andrew Stanners, a London-based money manager at Aberdeen Asset Management.
Anti-deficit measures currently being debated by Congress “don’t go far enough” to stabilize the national debt, Stanners said. Both candidates have said they support “fiscal rules” that would restrict the government’s ability to run up debt.
Holding the vote on an important religious holiday is an advantage for Fabricio Alvarado, said Eurasia Group analyst Risa Grais-Targow, since many of his opponent’s supporters may stay on vacation and abstain. The pair aren’t related.
Fabricio Alvarado has held a steady edge in polls conducted by Opol Consultores, which showed him with a 12-percentage-point lead among decided voters Friday. A University of Costa Rica poll released the same day showed both candidates in a virtual tie.
Fabricio Alvarado said he also favors a government hiring freeze, save for health and education sectors, while Carlos Alvarado said he would seek to limit growth in public sector hiring to 1 percent in his first two years and 1.5 percent in his second two years.
The deficit widened to 6.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, the highest since 1983 when the central bank began tracking it. The central bank projects that it will reach 7.1 percent this year and 7.9 percent next year without reforms.
Voting stations open at 6 a.m. on Sunday and close at 6 p.m. with results expected later Sunday night. The winner will be sworn in May 8.
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