The government is based on the Constitution of November 9th, 1949 (see also history). The president, who is both the head of government and head of state, wields executive power, assisted by two vice presidents and a cabinet of 12 ministers. (Previous governments had 18 ministers; in 1998, the president downsized the cabinet and added a team of eight advisors.)
The country is divided into the seven provinces of San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limón. Each province has a governor who is appointed by the president. The provinces are divided into 81 cantones (counties) and subdivided into 429 districts. for about every 30,000 people in each province, a diputado/a congressman/woman is elected every four years to the Legislative Assembly, or Congress, which totals 57 diputados in all (a number that will increase following the 2002 elections). This is where much of the power of government lies. Incumbents, however, cannot serve successive terms, which creates a lack of continuity: Whatever one congressperson does politically is liable to be reversed by his or her successor.
The Legislative Assembly appoints 22 Supreme Court magistrates for minimum terms of eight years, and these judges select judges for the lower courts. the idea behind thses three power structures is to prevent any one person or group from having too much control, thus ensuring a real democracy. There is also an Electoral Tribunal that is responsible for supervising elections and ensuring that the electoral process is fair and democratic. Known as the 'fourth power', the Electoral Tribunal consists of three magistrates and six substitutes who are independent of the government. There is no army in Costa Rica. Instead there's a Fuerza Pública, a form of armed police force.
Although there are about 30 political parties, only two groups have been in power since 1949: the National Liberation party (PLN) and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC). From 1998 to 2002, the PUSC has been in power , under the presidency of Miguel Angel Rodríguez. The elections of April 7th, 2002, resulted in a win for Abel Pacheco of the ruling PUSC. He took office on May 8th for his four year term.
The vote is officially mandatory for all citizens over 18 years old. an up-to-date and validated electoral card must be carried by all Costa Ricans as identification and is needed for anything from opening a bank account to getting a job.
Election day is very upbeat in Costa Rica - everyone treats it like a patriotic holiday, with flag waving, car-horn-honking, and general euphoria. Still, voter apathy has been increasing in recent years, and almost 39% of eligible voters declined to vote in the 2002 election. Citizens who didn't vote can get around the validated electoral card problem either by paying a fine or by going to a polling place to validate their card but then spoiling their ballot.
Pictures by Ricardo Vílchez Navamuel. The team of 1-CostaRicaLink wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.
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