Elections and Democracy in Central America - Vol. 8

By John A. Booth; Mitchell A. Seligson | Go to book overview

6 Ordinary Elections in Extraordinary Times The Political Economy of Voting in Costa Rica

Mitchell A. Seligson and Miguel Gómez B.

Almost all discussions of Central American politics begin with the caveat that generalizations do not apply to Costa Rica. Costa Rican "exceptionalism" emerges in many aspects of its political life; for the purposes of this volume, the differences between Costa Rica and its Central American neighbors can be summarized with reference to the questions John Booth raises in chapter 1. Booth seeks to determine the role of elections in the institutionalization of democracy in Central America. Specifically, he views elections as a potential instrument for democracy building.

In that context, it is legitimate for him to inquire of the impact of elections on the range, breadth, and depth of participation in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. But in Costa Rica, for at least the last four decades, participation has been as wide, broad, and deep as it has been among the most highly developed and institutionalized democracies in Western Europe and North America. Similarly, it is appropriate for Booth to inquire about the fairness of elections in the other countries, whereas Costa Rican elections have been a model of fairness matched by few other systems in the world. Consolidation of stable democracy, so central a question elsewhere in the region, has not been of concern since the 1960s in Costa Rica. In short, whereas recent elections in Central America can be viewed as instruments of democracy building, recent elections in Costa Rica were more of a reaffirmation of the stability and strength of a system that previously had been consolidated.

Recent elections in Costa Rica take on a very different meaning from those held elsewhere in the region. In Costa Rica very few observers would question the achievements of democratization over the past four decades. Recent elections there were not an independent variable to be viewed as an exercise in building democracy. Rather, an appropriate view of the recent elections is that they were a test of the survivability of consolidated democratic rule in a ministate under conditions of extreme economic stress. This is a relevant, indeed

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