Costa Rica had its national elections on Sunday, February 2nd. The president is chosen by popular vote. Costa Rica currently has 13 political parties and the election doesn’t determine a president unless one candidate receives at least 40% of the votes cast. For the second time in modern history none of the candidates received 40% of the votes, therefore there will be a run-off between the two top vote-getters on April 6th.
Political campaigns in Costa Rica last about 4 months (they used to be longer but they shortened them!). Election day is a public holiday and there are rallies and personal displays of political banners and T-shirts. Supporters proudly wear their favorite candidate’s colors and many vehicles carry and wave flags.
Costa Rica is very proud of its political system which grants all Costa Rican citizens the privilege and responsibility of electing a president (and two vice presidents selected by the president) and 57 representatives to its national assembly. Celebrations follow the closing of the polls at 6 p.m. – not because the election is finally over, but in appreciation of the freedom to vote. The interest and enthusiasm surrounding the election is refreshing –unlike U.S. elections with prolonged campaigns and voters put off by mud-slinging and reruns of the same political agendas in our two-party system.
The Costa Rican system has other features which are much different than the U.S. system:
- All elected officials serve simultaneous four year terms. The Constitution prohibits an incumbent president or representative from rerunning for office until they have been out of office for four years!
- There is public funding of the political campaigns.
- Voters cast two ballots – one for president and one for a political party (and they often vote for different ones!). Each political party nominates a slate of representatives, ranked in order of preference. The total votes for each political party are divided by the total votes cast to determine the percentage of votes received by each party. The 57 representative positions are then allocated to the parties according to the percentage of votes received by each party. The result is a national assembly with proportional representation.
- The right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution – if an employee has to work on election day, their employer must give them paid time off to vote.
- The Constitution provides for a separate, semi-autonomous organization, called the “Supreme Tribunal of Elections” which has authority over all things electoral. The Supreme Tribunal of Elections is highly respected as it ensures that Costa Rican elections are fair and corruption free.
Perhaps the United States should consider changing some of its political system to be more like its southern neighbor!