Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy

By John A. Booth | Go to book overview

cal game. It has a strong and independent legislature and courts and an executive branch subject to meaningful checks and balances. The independent election system consistently delivers high-quality elections that accurately reflect popular preferences at the polls. Two stable, moderate parties with democratically oriented followers and leaders dominate the multiparty system. The 1949 constitution provides, and government generally respects, extensive political rights that permit and encourage citizens to participate in politics. The absence of a standing army eliminates the menace of militarism to constitutional rule, freedom, and civil society. There are, in short, few formal barriers to broad and deep democracy in Costa Rica.

Within this generally excellent panorama, however, there exist certain troubling features. The power of the executive branch to make policy and to control formerly decentralized bureaucracies has grown markedly in recent decades. The scope and volume of legislative policymaking have eroded as executive power has risen. Critics worry that this shift in Costa Rica's executive-legislative power balance now leaves the presidency subject to too little meaningful legislative or judicial restraint.

The two major political parties have become more alike as the National Liberation Party has drifted toward the ideological center and the left has declined, resulting in less policy choice for voters. Finally, the modernization of political campaigns in Costa Rica has brought poll-driven election tactics and propaganda. The major parties' increasing reliance upon television to reach voters has eroded the traditionally high level of face-to-face campaign activity and driven up campaign costs, making the parties more dependent on private funding. Dissidents encouraged abstention in the 1998 election with some success, as turnout among frustrated voters apparently declined to 71 percent that year from 82 percent in 1994 (Table 3.4). This sharp decline prompted considerable speculation about its meaning for the political system among Tico politicians and pundits.

What is the balance between these positive and negative traits of Costa Rican politics? To some extent the problems cited may well be reducing the depth of democracy. Although these problems are real, Costa Rica is certainly not alone in having them. Indeed, most stable democracies have in recent decades experienced growing concentrations of executive authority, the erosion of personal electoral politics and civil society, and the noxious effects of high costs and television upon electoral politics. On balance, however, Costa Rica's institutional arrangements provide a free and stable electoral regime in which citizens may participate in politics without fear of repression.


NOTES
1
Constitutión Política de la Republica de Costa Rica (hereafter referred to as "Constitution") ( San José, Costa Rica: Imprenta Nacional, 1978), preamble, p. 5.
3
Ibid., title I, article 12, p. 8. Article 12 continues: "Only by continental agreement or for the national defense may military forces be organized; those forces that shall exist shall

-78-

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Costa Rica: Quest for Democracy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Acronyms xvii
  • Preface xxi
  • 1 - Latin American Democracy and Costa Rica 1
  • Notes 12
  • 2 - Contemporary Costa Rica In Central America 17
  • Notes 30
  • 3 - The Historical Development of Costa Rican Democracy 32
  • Notes 53
  • 4 - The Political Framework of Democracy 56
  • Notes 78
  • 5 - Social Structure and Civil Society 82
  • Notes 100
  • 6 - Political Participation 103
  • Notes 125
  • 7 - Political Culture 129
  • Notes 151
  • 8 - Political Economy in Transition 154
  • Notes 174
  • 9 - Costa Rica in the World 177
  • Conclusions 192
  • 10 - Analysi5 and Conclusions: Can Democracy Survive? 195
  • Notes 208
  • Appendix 211
  • Index 219
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