Though Mr. Sánchez’s past stirred concern among American conservatives, analysts said he represented a more politically mature F.M.L.N., which has lately eschewed radical talk and candidates in favor of politically popular social welfare programs and moderate appeals to bridge a still divided country.

“Both the left and right took pains publicly not to remind people of their ideology,” said Cynthia J. Arnson, director the Latin America program at the Wilson Center in Washington. “Both moved a little to the center in their rhetoric.”


In Costa Rica, Johnny Araya — a former mayor of San José, the capital, and the candidate of the incumbent, centrist National Liberation Party — was narrowly trailing Luis Guillermo Solís, a former Foreign Ministry official and political newcomer representing the progressive Citizens Action Party. They will likely meet in an April 6 runoff.

This development was something of a surprise because Mr. Solís had not been at the top of pre-election polls, but analysts had said the election was hard to predict because there were 13 candidates and the electorate seemed disaffected with parties and the course of the country.

Voters were angry about unemployment, crime and corruption scandals that have put the approval ratings of President Laura Chinchilla, who could not run again because of term limits, among the lowest in Latin America.

“Costa Rica was a triumph of outsider politics,” Ms. Arnson said. “Solís is by no means unknown. But he is widely respected, and his slogans against corruption and for good, honest government resonated in a way the traditional parties could not capture.


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