Abel Pacheco, active in PUSC party politics, was still something of an outsider in his run for the presidential nomination. Trained as a psychiatrist and well known to the Costa Rican people as a television host, the PUSC leadership opposed his candidacy in the 2002 election. His platform, based on a plan to streamline the Costa Rican economy and increase government spending for social programs, was regarded as a challenging one to implement. He points to The Netherlands as the model to use in crafting an efficient economy and superior social services for Costa Rica.
Pacheco took the oath of office 8 May 2002, choosing to hold his modest inauguration ceremony in the 1,000-seat Melico Salazar Theater in the capital, San José, rather than at the customary site for such swearing-ins, the 40,000-seat National Stadium in La Sabana. The government pledged the related cost savings (estimated at US $150,000) for housing for poor single mothers. (A small but dark cloud over the inauguration was the fact that his opponent, Rolanda Araya, had been hospitalized on election night after Pacheco supporters, scuffling with Araya's sons, beat Araya himself on the head with sticks when he tried to break up the disturbance.)