San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Electoral reforms bring transparency and opportunity to vote abroad

Sweeping reforms to the electoral code approved this week by the Legislative Assembly will grant more transparency to elections in Costa Rica, while updating old rules to better accommodate modern processes.

Among the changes implemented for the February 2010 presidential election is a reduction in the amount of state aid directed toward elections, restrictions on who can donate to campaigns and elimination of the long-standing dry law.

“This is a great opportunity for democracy and the transparency of democracy,” said Wendy González, an advisor to the Supreme Elections Tribunal, which worked alongside legislators in drafting the changes. She explained the reforms will allow people to more clearly see how campaigns are funded, by prohibiting donations from corporations and more explicitly recording contributions.

Perhaps the most tangible reform is the one that now permits the sale of alcohol on the days preceding elections. Since 1952, restaurants and other establishments have been barred from serving alcohol for fear alcohol consumption would incite violence and interfere with the democratic process.

“We think this law is obsolete,” Kattia Monge, aid to congressman Mario Núñez, who authored the motion to repeal the law, told The Tico Times while the motion was being debated. “And, in reality, it is no longer necessary. We haven´t had a violent conflict relating to elections in decades” (TT, May 22).

By 2014, legislators plan to make voting available to Costa Ricans living outside the country (which is not currently possible) and balancing the gender representation in congress by requiring 50 percent of elected officials to be female and 50 percent to be male. Right now, the quota within the Legislative Assembly for female representation is 40 percent.

“This will have a big impact on the electoral level,” González said. “It´s an enormous leap forward, in the words of the president of the electoral tribunal.”

Congress approved the changes on Wednesday of this week. The vote was 42 in favor and three opposed.

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