Thursday 9 February 2023

The election of President Rodrigo Chaves and the transformations of Costa Rican democracy

The country continues the tradition of the oldest and most consolidated democracy in Latin America

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8 February 2023 - At The Banks - BCCR

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Q REPORTS The peaceful election of Dr. Rodrigo Chaves as the 49th President of Costa Rica continues the tradition of the oldest and most consolidated democracy in Latin America and is part of the transformations that it has been experiencing in recent decades.

In 1948, Costa Rica suffered the second violent upheaval of its political system in the 20th century and later continued to consolidate liberal democracy, which has been building its rule of law since the 19th century.

In the two decades after the events of 1948, there was an alternation in government between the Partido Liberacion Nacional (PLN), a social democrat, and the he union of social-Christians, liberal, and conservative forces that came together for the electoral processes. In the seventies, the alternation is broken and two successive PLN governments are given that intensify the protectionism of the import substitution model, the fiscal imbalance and the entrepreneurial state. That led us to be the first country in Latin America to suffer the financial crisis of Latin American foreign debt in the early eighties.

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The PLN, with the extensive and indispensable collaboration of the opposition, which was consolidated in the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana (PUSC), initiated a change in the economic policy that it had imposed on the country and achieved, with very successful results, the opening of the production to world markets, state interventionism in setting prices and regulations was limited, and progress was made in balancing public finances. Costa Rica was in the eighties one of the most advanced countries in the application of the transformations of its economy according to IDB estimates.

The attitude of the PUSC was supported by the citizens and between 1990 and 2002 it won three of the four electoral processes.

In the PLN, the policy change divided the leaders between those who favored the new, more market-friendly vision, and the more statist tradition.

This led to the fact that in the 1990s the PLN, when it was in opposition, opposed the approval of the third Structural Adjustment Program, causing the country to slow down in terms of change, and traditionalist leaders began a campaign against the parties and their leaders. The anti-politics was raised first in the name of the PLN itself, and then by leaders who came out to form a new party option, the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC).

In the 2002 elections, the PAC burst into force. It was in third place behind the PUSC and the PLN, but with 26.2% of the votes and for the first time in our history it was forced to go to a ballotage as no candidate obtained at least 40% of the valid votes.

The strength of the anti-politics was strengthened by the positions of some of the most influential media outlets in the country, which, due to the consolidation of the PUSC, had lost prominence in the national debate.

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In addition, the loss of prestige and esteem for democracy and the rule of law, mistrust of the elites, and the fragility and fragmentation of political parties that have been generated in this 21st century contributed to giving anti-politics more and more vigor. in the West.

With regard to the PUSC, the deterioration was accelerated by the persecution of former presidents in 2004. I voluntarily resigned from the General Secretariat of the OAS and returned to face the courts. I was acquitted 12 years later.

The PAC grew stronger with its anti-political rhetoric and won the 2014 presidential election in the second round against the PLN.

Thanks to a radical division of the electorate on family issues, in 2018 the PAC and an evangelical party that had had very limited votes in previous elections remained for the ballotage. The PLN and the PUSC were in third and fourth place. And the PAC repeated its victory, which shortly before the first round had the support of very few voters.

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Now in 2022, in the first round, the PAC did not obtain a single representative for the Legislative Assembly; The PUSC, which had grown in 2018, decreased its electoral flow by a quarter, remaining in fifth place after two new parties; the Nueva Republica evangelist who ranked third with the candidate who had placed first in the first round of 1998; and the Progressive Liberal Party that registered for the first time for those elections. The PLN was in first place with a difference of 10.56 percentage points and 192,809 votes over the second place, occupied by the Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD).

In the ballotage, the PPSD with its candidate Rodrigo Chaves defeated the PLN with an advantage of 5.6 percentage points, which corresponds to 109,538 votes. But it has only 10 of the 57 legislators that make up the Legislative Assembly and were elected in the first round.

The PPSD was established by its Constituent Assembly after the 2018 elections on May 20 of that year. By then its candidate and current President-elect lived outside the country and had no role in its constitution.

The fragility and division that political parties have experienced is evident.

What alternatives are glimpsed for the Costa Rican political system?

I offer four:

  1. That the electoral system change to a semi-parliamentary one to facilitate the constitution of governments that have the support of a parliamentary majority, as I have proposed since 2001.
  2. That the electoral processes gradually shape a bipartisan reality that makes our presidential system.
  3. That we continue as in the last processes with shell political parties, that are used by different candidates to face each other in the elections, and governments with little popular support are given and,
  4. That an illiberal populism captures the government and we fall little by little in an autocracy.

I am confident that the strength of our institutions and the maturity of our people will lead us in one of the first two directions.

Translated and adapted from the opinion article by former president of Costa Rica, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, on Read the original in Spanish here

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