On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Costa Rican politics fragments

Elections in Costa Rica in Central America have thrown up a highly fragmented result, with the Legislative Assembly to be divided among at least five significant parties.

The run-off vote for President – to be held in April 1 – will be between the candidate of the governing centre-left party and a surging conservative-right party.

Elections for the national Legislative Assembly and the first round of presidential voting were held on Sunday.

Unhelpfully for voters, both the two final presidential candidates are named Alvarado; Gerardo Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz of the National Restoration Party (who won 25% of the first-round vote) will face off against Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the currently governing Citizens’ Action Party (22%).

Costs Rica is one of the most stable of all Latin American democracies, with continuous democratic elections since the 1890s. Only a brief military coup in 1948-49 interrupts their continuous record of governments elected every 4 years.

Costa Rican election laws require that Presidents and members of the Assembly serve can only a single consecutive 4-year term of office.

For the first time since 1951 the National Liberation Party, which has won 9 of the 16 presidential elections since its establishment, will not even have a candidate in the presidential runoff.

National Liberation’s candidate was in the runoff in 2014, but facing adverse opinion polls he made the unusual decision not to even campaign, effectively ceding the last stage of the election to current President Luis Guillermo Solis of the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party.

Whichever candidate becomes President Alvarado in April will have to deal with a legislature where their party has fewer than 20% of the delegates.

In Costa Rica the 57 seats in the Legislative Assembly are allocated between political parties by a party list system across seven electoral regions. Due to the single-term law, sitting members cannot appear on the party lists for each new election, resulting in a total turnover of legislators.

image - Plenario_de_la_Asamblea_Legislativa_de_Costa_Rica

Party politics in the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica is about to become more complicated (image: Wikipedia)

The most populous of the seven regions – San José – has 19 seats, and so can yield a very fragmented outcome including seats for multiple small parties.

The other six regions, allocated as few as 4 seats, tend to exclude the smaller parties from representation.

Increasing a trend of the past few decades, Costa Rican voters are now dramatically dividing their support among several parties.

Yesterday the centrist/centre-left National Liberation’s regional lists for the legislature won 20% of the vote nationwide, with the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party winning 16%. The formerly influential left-wing Broad Front group crashed to just 4%

The conservative National Restoration party has surged into significance, winning 18% of the vote, while the longer-established centre-right Social Christian Unity Party won 15%. At least 6% has gone to minor right-wing parties.

In the centre of politics, the National Integration Party won 8%, and may become the parliamentary power-broker. The remainder of the vote – around 13% – was won by minor parties and local regional party lists.

The partisan seat outcome in the Assembly will be historically difficult for the incoming President. On current results, each of the four leading parties will have around 10-12 seats in the 57-seat assembly, with National Integration in the centre with 5 or 6 seats.

Whoever becomes President, their party will have only around 10 seats in the legislature. Moreover as each of the two remaining presidential candidates represents the outlying left or right of Costa Rican politics, the parties lying in the centre of the political spectrum between the two governing alternatives will collectively amount to a majority of the Assembly.

Costa Rican politics is clearly becoming more volatile, as US Latin-American politics expert Matthew Shugart has been observing for some time.

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