Democracy in Costa Rica
Costa Rica Political Parties
In the last few elections, major changes have taken place on the Costa Rican political scene. The former PLUSC coalition, as detractors called it, has gone by the wayside. The arrest of two former PUSC presidents was a major factor in the decline of this party, which is now a minority party in the legislature and garnered less than 10% of the vote in the last election. PLN is the majority party in the legislature and the President Oscar Arías belongs to the PLN as well. The main opposition party is PAC, headed by Otton Solís. PAC was formed in response to perceived corruption in the PLUSC faction, and has been successful due to a general discontent with the 2 traditional parties.
The minority parties currently hold an important number of seats in the Assembly, with neither major party enjoying an outright majority. PLN has 25 seats in the 57 member Assembly. PAC obtained 17 seats, the Libertarian Movement 6, PUSC 5 and 4 minority parties have 1 representative each (PASE, Frente Amplio, Partido Union Naciónal and Restoración Naciónal. ) The minority parties represent a wide variety of posistions and interests. The PASE legislator is blind and ran on a platform of equality for disabled persons and their families, mostly in the Central Valley.
The Frente Amplio supports positions favored by the powerful teachers, ICE and government worker’s unions. PUN is a one man party headed by the former Omsbudsman who ran for President and Representative in the 2006 election. While Restoración Naciónal is a conservative religious party backed by evangelical Christians , both the past and current representative for this party are evangelical ministers.
Costa Rica Democracy: the Political System
Costa Rica has a constitutional democracy with a unicameral Legislative Assembly directly elected in free, multiparty elections every four years. There are 57 representatives who are elected by province. Voters do not vote for a particular candidate from their district, but for which party they want to represent them. Seats are assigned according to the per centage of votes the parties receive. Each party ranks their candidates for each province in order, then representatives are selected according to how many votes the party received. For example, in the 2006 election the Heredia province PLN and PAC gained the 5 seats in the Assembly. After the manual count, the PLN had 60,910 votes, so they received 3 seats. PAC received 51,324 votes, which was worth 2 seats.
The Libertarian party was 1,671 votes short of getting a seat. Óscar Arias Sánchez of the National Liberation Party (PLN) won the 2006 presidential election in an extremely tight race with the Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Otton Solís. The victory was notable, because as of 2002 Arias was inelegible for re-election. The Sala IV ( Costa Rican Constitutional Court ) annulled a 1969 law which barred presidential reelection in 2003. This was after the same court in 2000 struck down a similar challenge, so the decision to allow Arias to run in the 2006 race was a controversial one.
Costa Rica Courts
The Supreme Court has 22 magistrates divided among four chambers, including the Constitutional Chamber (Sala IV), whose members decide constitutional issues involving laws and court cases. The Sala IV takes a broad and activist view of constitutional rights, including rights to property, and routinely agrees to hear contract disputes. The Sala I hears abrogation, contract disputes and ordinary civil litigation. The Sala II is the family court and hears matters related to inheritance, divorces and domestic disputes. The Sala III is the criminal court and also hears matters related to slander.
**Article from the archives of the American-European Real Estate Group**