San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Democracy: Costa Ricans Losing

Costa Ricans appear to be losing faith in their democracy.

The State of the Nation report, which has measured citizen support for democracy since 1978, says that 16 percent fewer Costa Ricans endorse democracy as the best system of government, as compared to last year.

In 2007, 83 percent of the country’s citizens touted their support for democracy. In 2008, that number dropped to 67 percent.

Another statistic that received a “critical” stamp in the State of the Nation, released Tuesday, is that 36 percent of municipalities don’t have direct representation in the Legislative Assembly, based on the place of residence of those elected. Conversely, 53 percent of the deputies in the National Assembly live in districts that represent only 20 percent of voters. According to the report, those areas with the least representation generally corresponded to the areas of the country with the greatest needs.

“The improvement of the system is essential for the citizen to have political representation in accordance with their expectations,” the report says. “It’s an area in which the country has shown important deficiencies.”

But then, there was some good news.

The government increased the number of judges by 101 in 2008. That is almost double the number of judges who held positions 10 years earlier, so the courts could handle more cases. More laws made it through the Legislative Assembly under President Oscar Arias than under former President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), up from 167 to 211. And the report pointed to reforms in the electoral code as evidence of the strengthening of democratic institutions.

The State of the Nation describes 2008 as a quiet political year. Following a fiercely contested 2006 presidential race, in which only two percentage points separated the leading candidates, and a divisive referendum on the Central American Free Trade Agreement in the fall of 2007, “2008 was a year of relative calm.”

–Chrissie Long


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