San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Diverse Assembly Awaits Chinchilla

Laura Chinchilla may have enjoyed a wide victory margin in Sunday’s presidential election, but she will face a divided Legislative Assembly when she steps into office on May 8th.

While the exact apportionment of seats among the political parties in the Legislative Assembly won’t be known until next week, early figures indicate Chinchilla’s party, the National Liberation Party (PLN), provisionally holds 23 of the 57 seats – six short of the number required to pass bills easily with an absolute majority.

But the fact the PLN is six votes short won’t be an impediment, according to University of Costa Rica political science professor Sergio Moya. “She (Chinchilla) will be able to achieve a majority in the assembly thanks to alliances with the Libertarian Movement Party (ML).”

The centrist PLN and the right-wing ML have been aligned on many issues in the last few years. With the ML doubling its forces after this election, it stands as an ally that can carry through PLN proposals, said Moya.

Political analyst Fernando Zeledón said the real loser in Sunday’s election was the PAC, which lost six seats in the Legislative Assembly and 15 percent of the presidential vote compared to the 2006 election.

But another left-leaning party, Accessibility Without Exclusion Party (PASE), was able to pick up some of those votes, quadrupling their legislative seats from one to four.

“That was a big surprise in this election,” said Moya, who attributed the gain to the success of PASE legislator Oscar López.

“His attitude and actions in the Legislative Assembly attracted a lot of sympathizers in Costa Rica,” Moya said of the 38-year-old blind politician who made a run for president this year.

Representing the disabled and elderly populations, López has made waves in political circles by giving a voice to the marginalized.

Though it’s still premature to say where his support came from in this election, Moya said, his message of equal opportunity clearly has reached many ears.

Other legislative seats went to the Social Christian Unity Party (6), the Broad Front Party (1), the Costa Rican Renovation Party (1) and the National Restoration Party (1).

“We expect to know the full makeup of the Legislative Assembly in the coming week,” said Luis A. Sobrado, president of the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE), who said that the assembly figures are confirmed after the votes for president. Currently, the TSE is undertaking a recount of half the tables due to discrepancies in the numbers.

Sobrado said he doesn’t expect the percentages to change in the presidential race, but the TSE is undertaking the process “to remove any doubts or suspicions.”

Any number of reasons could prompt the recount, Sobrado said, including differences between the tally of voters and the number of ballots, questionable markings on the physical ballot or vote tallies missing the signatures of a sufficient number of observers.

“We expect one vote to be invalid here, another to be void over there but, in the end, we think it would be unusual for (the recount) to modify the results,” Sobrado said.

Yet, the legislative vote could change, Sobrado said, as 10 percent of the ballots have yet to be counted.

Reluctant to comment on the congressional results after the polls closed Sunday as the results weren’t yet confirmed, Chinchilla did say her government would be one of collaboration.

“Independently of how the Legislative Assembly will be configured, our effort will be to establish a permanent dialogue with the political parties and social sectors of the country,” she said.


Legislative Elections

Costa Rica replaces its 57-seat Legislative Assembly with new members every four years. Candidates are not directly elected, but are appointed from a pool of pre-selected party members after voters indicate their party preferences in the polls. Based on the percentage of votes a party receives in each province, a specified number of their candidates gain seats in the Legislative Assembly.



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