San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Political Parties Emerge

LEFTISTS and conservatives, seasoned politicos andfresh-faced novices – in a nation where recent scandalshave left the two traditional political parties humiliatedand, according to some analysts, teetering on the brink oftotal collapse, citizens from all walks of life are formingnew parties to fill the potential void.New parties have been popping up on the political scenethroughout the past decade. However, the recent arrests ofSocial Christian Unity Party (PUSC) stars such as partyfounder and former President Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994) and ex-President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002) on corruption charges, and allegations of possible corruptionagainst ex-President José María Figueres (1994-1998) of the National Liberation Party (PLN), have givennew urgency to the trend toward the emergence of newparties as eyes turn to the 2006 presidential elections.TWELVE new parties have begun the inscriptionprocess, according to the Web site of the Supreme ElectionsTribunal (TSE). The list includes parties such asAccessibility Without Exclusion, Broad Front, Shout of theCaribbean, Homeland First, National Democratic Alliance,Social Democrat, Union for Change and Green Ecologist.The proliferation of new parties has the potential to renew citizens’ dedication to politics, butcould also add to the legislative gridlock towhich recently created parties have contributedin recent years, according to the2004 State of the Nation.The annual report examines trends inCosta Rican politics, economics, andother areas, and says support for the stablebipartisan system that governed CostaRica throughout the second half of the20th century diminished in the pastdecade as the result of growing distrusttoward existing parties – which, accordingto the State of the Nation, exceeds distrustof any other public institution orsocial organization.In the 2002 presidential elections, 30%of voters changed their vote to a differentparty from the one they supported in the1998 elections, showing the highest levelof voter volatility in more than 20 years,according to the report.THE results increased recently createdparties’ representation in the LegislativeAssembly: of 13 official national parties,six have representatives in the assembly,including the Citizen Action Party (whichstarted out with 14 assembly members,although six later broke away to form thePatriotic Bloc), the Libertarian MovementParty (five members), Authentic HerediaParty and Costa Rican Renovation Party(one apiece).The Patriotic Bloc’s six legislatorsbroke away from the Citizen Action Party(PAC) after a disagreement about theircode of ethics (TT, Feb. 28, 2003).Although PUSC and PLN retain themajority of assembly members, 19 and 17respectively, political analyst Jorge Vargassays Costa Rica’s bipartisan system hashad its day in the sun.Vargas, who is the executive director ofState of the Nation, cautioned against placingtoo much weight on the effect of thecorruption scandals on the political shift.“IF the parties had been strong, andthis had happened, it would have had someeffect, but because the scandals arrived at amoment of profound weakness, the repercussionshave been much worse,” he toldThe Tico Times.The two-party system had already beendebilitated by other factors such as anincreasing similarity between PUSC andPLN, Vargas said. “The majority partiesstarted to look too much alike, which madeit hard for them to mobilize their bases,” hesaid.He added that because the two-partysystem originated from opposing factionsduring the civil war in 1948, party loyaltyhas decreased as fewer Costa Ricansremember that period.Rodolfo Cerdas, a political analystwith the Center for Political andAdministrative Investigation and Training(CIAPA), a non-governmental think tank,agreed there is much more at play thanreaction to corruption, and said bipartisanismjust is not the Costa Rican way.“HISTORICALLY in Costa Ricathere have always been three, four, fiveparties, up until the 1980s,” he told TheTico Times. “We are seeing a return to thatkind of system.”Both analysts agreed the governmentelected in 2006 will face tremendous challengesas a result of a lack of consensus.“The next government will have ahighly divided Legislative Assembly,”Cerdas said. “However, we will see effortsto form alliances.”Vargas is less optimistic.“Those who govern will be in apredicament,” he said. “They will facetremendous budget limitations, and it willbe more difficult to form coalitions.”Multiple political affiliations in theassembly have reduced legislative efficiency,according to the State of the Nation.More initiatives are proposed, but with alower rate of success, as it appears moredifficult for legislators to reach a consensus.SOME of the new parties, such as theUnion for Change (UPC), were formed indirect response to the government corruptioncases under investigation. UPCfounder and longtime PLN stalwartAntonio Álvarez Desanti withdrew fromthe Liberation Party in September, sayingcorruption is crippling the party’s leadership.He recently told The Tico Times thatnew parties with new leadership are theonly way to prevent corruption from reoccurring.Other new parties had been in theworks for months before the scandalsbroke and received added energy and publicityfrom the blows to PUSC and PLN.Initial support for the AlternativeLeftist Movement (MAÍZ), whose membershoped to later launch a political party,was forged at a meeting on May 1 (TT,April 30). MAÍZ members organized thefounding of the political party, which theychristened Broad Front, on Oct. 16 at theheight of the corruption scandals.ORGANIZERS say they hope thenew party will become a coalition offorces, including the leftist movement,dedicated to changing Costa Ricans’approach to politics.Broad Front organizing committeemember César Parral told The Tico Timesthe recent scandals have resulted in aninflux of new participants and volunteersfor both the political party and the MAÍZmovement.“If people don’t want other people toengage in corruption, there is an antidote:get to work, join in, take politics back intoyour own hands. It is the only way toensure no one fools you,” he said.On Oct. 30, a gray Saturday afternoonfound approximately 40 people, fueled bycoffee and a desire for change, gathered inthe auditorium of the Costa Rican HospitalAssociation in downtown San José to discussplans for the movement, both wide reachingand nitty-gritty — from how theparty can create a more just society towhether the organizing committee shouldaccept handwritten position papers orrequire that they be word-processed.Parral said one of the elements of theBroad Front platform is improved unitywithin Latin America, and said the continentis gearing up for “a real rebellionagainst neoliberalism,” which he definesas overreliance on market forces.OTHER parties in the inscriptionprocess include Homeland First, foundedby Patriotic Bloc legislator Juan JoséVargas on Oct. 24. Vargas told the daily LaNación the party was proposed by a groupof business executives, educators andhousewives, and that its platform is basedon the social doctrine of the CatholicChurch.Former Justice Minister José MiguelVillalobos founded the NationalDemocratic Alliance (ADN), one of thefirst new parties to announce its intentionsto register for the 2006 elections, inMay.Villalobos said his movement is “radicalcentrist,” opposes certain aspects of theproposed Central American Free-TradeAgreement with the United States(CAFTA), seeks to ban casinos and sportsbooksand proposes a strict immigrantquota system, among other measures (TT,May 7).Rumors about a new party led byassembly member Humberto Arce wereconfirmed on Tuesday when Arce, alongwith fellow Patriotic Bloc legislatorsRafael Varela and Quírico Jiménez,announced the founding of the PatrioticUnion Party. The founders plan to inscribeit on a national level but do not yet havepresidential aspirations for the party,according to La Nación.MARISOL Castro, director of theTSE’s Civil Registry, told The Tico Timesparties often jump the gun and proclaimthemselves before receiving official TSEapproval.“Many of the parties that come out ontelevision, in the media, have not yet beenformally constituted,” she said.All new parties face a lengthy inscriptionprocess.Castro said a party must be founded byan assembly of at least 50 people, duringwhich a provisional Executive Committeemust be named.Organizers must then collect 3,000 signaturesand organize a series of assemblies:465 district assemblies of at leastfive people each, 81 cantonal assembliesand seven provincial assemblies, all leadingup to a National Assembly (TT, May7).PARTY leaders must coordinate eachassembly – 554 in all – with the TSE, sincea TSE official must be present at each one.The entire process must be completedby August 2005 in order to inscribe a presidentialcandidate in the 2006 race.The organization, financial resourcesand volunteers needed for such an effortare too much for some small parties, whichmust therefore set their sights on laterraces or hope to forge alliances to share theload.Parral, who calls the TSE’s regulations“excessive” and “anti-democratic,” saysthe Broad Front may inscribe itself as aSan José provisional party and try to joinforces with other regional parties in orderto nominate a presidential candidate in2006.

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