OSCAR Arias has been declared the winner, according to preliminary figures, in Costa Rica's presidential elections. But whichever of the two front-runners -- Mr. Arias or former Foreign Minister Rafael Calderon Jr. -- had won, the most important thing is that this small country continues to demonstrate that democracy can flourish in Central America. A record turnout was reported, and the margin of victory decisive, 53.3 percent to 44.8 percent. Another sign of the sturdiness of democracy there is that Costa Rica has had no compunction about voting out the ruling party over the years. Although Mr. Arias, like current President Luis Alberto Monge, is a member of the National Liberation Party, he is the youngest chief executive ever in Costa Rica and represents a break with his party's old guard.
Costa Rica has its troubles, notably getting along with its Sandinista neighbors in Nicaragua and paying off its foreign debt. Mr. Arias has some way to go toward articulating solutions to these problems.
But at a time when democracy can seem so fragile in Latin America, it is heartening to see signs of a healthy political process.