San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Candidates Hold First Debate

Some presidential candidates are rejecting the idea of constitutional reform less than a week after President Oscar Arias proposed it.

During the first presidential debate of the 2010 election season, three of the five leading candidates on Tuesday lashed out against any effort to change the constitution, calling it unnecessary and unproductive.

Reacting to a speech Arias made at an event at the National University in Heredia last week, the candidates criticized what they call Arias’ attempt to weaken checks and balances on the executive branch, saying that the answer to improving Costa Rica is not fewer controls.

“Now is not the appropriate time to eliminate controls,” said 55-year-old Ottón Solís, the center-left Citizen Action Party candidate.

“It’s a time to strengthen them,” adding that efficiency would come from reducing corruption, not restructuring the constitution.

Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara, who stands on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Solís, said the problem is not the degree of controls, but that the executive branch is “using them as an excuse to avoid making decisions.”

Arias, whose term ends in May 2010, last week proposed the convocation of a constituent assembly to suggest constitutional reforms needed to give the incoming president enough flexibility to carry out his or her plan of government.

In advocating constitutional reform, Arias told an audience of intellectuals and scholars, “Our state has been converted into a state that values controls over implementation.

“…A restricted state, bloated and unable to execute its decisions, violates the public interest just as much as a state that abuses its power. To the extent that we remain a country of controllers, not entrepreneurs, (it will be) very difficult to reach our goals, whatever they are.”

Front-runner Laura Chinchilla, candidate of the ruling National Liberation Party (PLN) and a vice president in the Arias administration before resigning to launch her campaign, was the lone voice in support of a constitutional revision.

Echoing Arias’ position, Chinchilla said, “It’s not a question of how many controls. It’s a question of what controls.” But she added that changes can be made to the laws before undertaking a redraft of the constitution.

“I still believe that before we arrive at a (constitutional reform), we must strengthen and pursue partial reforms to the constitution as it stands,” she said.

Oscar López, who sat to Chinchilla’s right during the debate, said such reforms are dangerous, as they would affect existing solid checks on the executive and legislative branches.

“We are not prepared for auto-control,” said López, candidate of the Access Without Exclusion Party (PASE). He added that more professionals in the Comptroller’s General’s Office are needed to make oversight and audits more efficient.

The first debate was held at the Franklin Chang building in Rohrmoser and was hosted by the Comptroller General’s Office.

The only major candidate absent from the debate was Rafael Angel Calderón of the Social Christian United Party (PUSC). Calderón is currently fighting charges of corruption in the courts. The 10-month-old trial is expected to conclude in mid-September.



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