Costa Rica Today
Government and Politics
Costa Rica's political system is defined by the 1949 Constitution as a democratic republic run by an elected president and the Council of Government, a 19-member cabinet. The Legislative Assembly, composed of 57 elected members, represents the country's seven provinces. Candidates for the presidential election must be secular citizens, and are only allowed to serve one term. Voting is required by all citizens between ages of 18-70. Elections are held every four years on the first Sunday in February, and are overseen by a Special Electoral Tribunal.
Each of the seven provinces of Costa Rica is run by a governor who is appointed by the President. The provinces - Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, and San José - are divided into 81 counties and 421 districts. Each district is served by a municipal council which runs its everyday affairs.
There are traditionally two rival political parties in Costa Rica: the National Liberation Party (PLN) and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC). The PLN leans toward welfare-state liberalism, while the PUSC is more progressive, conservative and generally supports business interests. The PLN traditionally holds a majority in the Legislative Assembly, while the presidency alternates every four years, switching back and forth between candidates from the two rival parties. Elections are usually very close, victors winning only by a 2 or 3 percent margin.
Costa Rica declared neutrality after civil war in 1949, and interim president "Don Pepe" Figueres subsequently abolished the national army. Today, the security of the nation is overseen by a heavily armed National Guard and civilian police force. Peace and harmony are a large part of the national mindset, so issues are usually resolved by consensus, in the absence of political passion.