Political Situation in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and a 15-member cabinet that includes one of the vice presidents. The president and 57 Legislative Assembly deputies are elected for 4-year terms. A constitutional amendment approved in 1969 limits presidents and deputies to one term, although a deputy may run again for an Assembly seat after sitting out a term. An amendment to the constitution to allow second presidential terms has been proposed. The constitutionality of the prohibition against a second presidential term also has been challenged in the courts.

The electoral process is supervised by an independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal, a commission of three principal magistrates and six alternates selected by the Supreme Court of Justice. Judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court of Justice, composed of 22 magistrates selected for renewable 8-year terms by the Legislative Assembly, and subsidiary courts. A Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, established in 1989, reviews the constitutionality of legislation and executive decrees and all habeas corpus warrants.

The offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, the Procurator General of the Public, and the Ombudsman exercise autonomous oversight of the government. The Comptroller General's office has a statutory responsibility to scrutinize all but the smallest contracts of the public sector and strictly enforces procedural requirements.

Governors appointed by the president head the country's seven provinces, but they exercise little power. There are no provincial legislatures. Autonomous state agencies enjoy considerable operational independence; they include the telecommunications and electrical power monopoly, the nationalized commercial banks, the state insurance monopoly, and the social security agency. Costa Rica has no military and maintains only domestic police and security forces for internal security.

Political conditions
Costa Rica long has emphasized the development of democracy and respect for human rights. Until recently, the country's political system has contrasted sharply with many of its Central American and Caribbean neighbors; it has steadily developed and maintained democratic institutions and an orderly, constitutional scheme for government succession. Several factors have contributed to this tendency, including enlightened government leaders, comparative prosperity, flexible class lines, educational opportunities that have created a stable middle class, and high social indicators. Also, because Costa Rica has no armed forces, it has avoided the possibility of political intrusiveness by the military that some neighboring countries have experienced. Costa Rica experienced several unusual days of demonstrations and civil disturbance in early 2000 due to protests over legislation that would have permitted private sector participation in the telecommunications and electrical power sectors. These sectors currently are controlled by state-owned monopolies. The legislation was withdrawn, but the underlying question of the appropriate role of the state in the provision of public services remains sensitive.

Costa Rica's leading political parties are the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC, center right), Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN, center right), Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC, center left) and Partido Movimiento Libertario (ML, Libertarian). Other minor parties include Partido Renovación Costarricense (PRC, Christian) and Fuerza Democrática (FD, left).

In the February 1998 national election, PUSC candidate Miguel Angel Rodríguez won the presidency over PLN nominee Jose Miguel Corrales. President Rodriguez assumed office May 8, 1998. The PUSC also obtained 27 seats in the 57-member Legislative Assembly, for a plurality, while the PLN gained 23 and five minor parties won seven. Social Christian in philosophy, the PUSC generally favors neoliberalism, conservative fiscal policies, and government reform. President Rodriguez pledged to reduce the country's large internal debt, privatize state-owned utilities, attract additional foreign investment, eliminate social welfare programs, and promote the creation of jobs with decent salaries. The reforms he tried to promote found opposition from several parties, including his own, and he asserted several times the country was "ungovernable".

In the 2002 national election, a new party founded by former PLN Congressman and government Minister Ottón Solís captured 26% of the vote, forcing a runoff election for the first time in the country's history. Abel Pacheco was elected President, under a national unity platform, but continuing most of the neoliberal and conservative policies of Miguel Angel Rodríguez. This election was also important because new parties won several seats in Congress, more than ever. The PUSC obtained 19 seats, PLN 17 seats, PAC 14 seats, PML 6 seats and PRC one seat.

During the year 2004, several high profile corruption scandals shattered the foundations of PUSC. Two former Presidents from the party, Miguel Angel Rodríguez and Rafael Angel Calderón were arrested on corruption charges and are currently waiting for the investigation to end and trial to begin. Also involved in scandals has been José María Figueres, former President from PLN and former head of the World Economic Forum.

There are at least 4 new important parties in the process of registration, some headed by important political figures such as Congressmen and former Congressmen and government ministers.

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Independence Day Parade
Courtesy of CostaRicaPhotos.com

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Liberacion party fan
Cheering Oscar Arias in 2006 elections
Courtesy of CostaRicaPhotos.com

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National Monument of Costa Rica
Courtesy of CostaRicaPhotos.com

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