Politics of Costa Rica

Politics of Costa Rica

The politics of Costa Rica take place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Costa Rica is both the head of state and head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the president and his cabinet. Legislative power is vested in the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. Costa Rica is a republic with a strong system of constitutional checks and balances.

Political conditions

Costa Rica's current leading political parties are Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN, social democratic), Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC, Reformist, largely but not exclusively left and center left), Partido Movimiento Libertario (ML, libertarian) and the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC, christian democratic). Other minor parties with congressional representation include Partido Restauración Nacional (PRN, Christian), Partido Frente Amplio (FA, left), Partido Accesibilidad Sin Exclusión (PASE, fights for disabled people) and Partido Unión Nacional (PUN, center right) . Several new parties participated for the first time in the 2006 elections, including Partido Unión Patriótica, Partido Unión para el Cambio, Partido Patria Primero, and Partido Alianza Democrática Nacionalista but their results were mostly poor.

In the February 1998 national election, PUSC candidate Miguel Ángel 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 particular, an attempt by the Legislative Assembly to approve a law that opened up the electricity and telecommunication markets (contolled by a monopoly of the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity - ICE) to market competition, known as the "Combo" law was met with strong social opposition. Supported by both major parties at the time, the PLN and PUSC, as well as by President Rodriguez, the first of three required legislative votes to approve the Combo law provoked the largest protest demonstrations the country had seen since 1970. The government quickly resolved to shelf the initiative. President Rodríguez's approval would reach an all-time low, and he was indicted by the Attorney General after leaving office on corruption charges.

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 Ángel 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 Ángel Rodríguez and Rafael Ángel 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.

The 2006 national election was expected to be a landslide for former President (1986-1990) and PLN's candidate Óscar Arias, but it turned out to be the closest in modern history. Although polls just a week before the election gave Arias a comfortable lead of at least 12% (and up to 20%), preliminary election results gave him only a .4% lead over rival Ottón Solís and prompted a manual recount of all ballots. After a month long recount and several appeals from different parties, Arias was declared the official winner with 40.9% of the votes against 39.8% for Solís.

Since Óscar Arias returned to office, the political climate has been characterized by an increased polarization of public debate, mainly centered on whether to approve or reject CAFTA. Main supporters of the approval include the President's PLN, which has established a coalition with PUSC and ML in Congress in order to approve the implementation laws in Congress, as well as different business chambers, while the main opposition to CAFTA comes from PAC, labor unions, environmental organizations and public universities. In April 2007, former PLN Presidential candidate and CAFTA opponent José Miguel Corrales won a legal battle at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which authorized him to gather over 100 thousand signatures in order to send CAFTA to a referendum and let the people decide the fate of the controversial agreement. As the February 28, 2008 deadline to approve or reject CAFTA loomed, Arias decided to call for the referendum himself, and it took take place on October 7, 2007. In the intercourse, Vicepresident Kevin Casas quitted from his position due to a compromising memorandum he wrote.

In spite of winning the referendum, each new law had to be analyzed and approved individually which has caused delays in Costa Rica's compliance to CAFTA. As of September 2008, only one law was remaining to be approved, but was delayed because it had a faulty procedure to be approved. The president expressed in a recent speech to be "tired", regarding the opposition parties who "do not let me accomplish my goals".

Executive branch

Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country's center of power. There also are two vice presidents and the president's cabinet composed of his ministers [http://www.go.cr/consejo_gob_costarica.htm] . 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. The prohibition was officially recognized as anti-constitutional in April 2003, allowing Óscar Arias to run for President a second time in the 2006 Costa Rican presidential elections.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.

The position of governor of the seven provinces was abolished in 1998 [http://www.nacion.com/ln_ee/2007/junio/29/pais1150113.html] . 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 but maintains domestic Police and armed National Guard forces securing its interests.

President of Costa Rica
Óscar Arias
May 8, 2006

Political parties and elections

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 branch

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.

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