Laura Chinchilla had been in Casa Presidencial no more than 10 days when a crowd swarmed through the streets of San José in protest of one of her government’s first initiatives.
Her party, the National Liberation Party, had proposed a 72 percent pay raise for newly installed legislators, an increase that would bump their salaries from $4,700 to $8,000 a month.
Most of the population was incredulous and furious, and many waited outside the Legislative Assembly until late in the evening on the day of the vote, marching in circles and calling out chants.
“It seems that the Chinchilla administration miscalculated the political reaction or they didn’t care at the beginning,” said political analyst Agustín Castro. “Either way, it was a poor move.”
Chinchilla watched public outrage grow louder, and although she had already expressed support for the increase, saying it would even out the pay scale among the three branches of government, she began to back off. Then, just days after legislators approved the increase in the first vote, she said she would veto the bill.
Although Chinchilla may have salvaged her popularity, she left the 24 legislators in her party exposed to a withering barrage of criticism – and without a raise. And to make matters worse, her health minister soon after issued an eviction order for three buildings housing Legislative Assembly offices, based on long-standing health code violations.
“The decision to shelve the issue (of pay raises for legislators) created injuries that cannot be hidden within the party,” said former Minister of the Presidency Rodrigo Arias in an interview with the daily La República. “It was a bad start.”
Castro said the political cost of the incident is clear. Not only is there now a sticking point between Chinchilla and the members of her party in the Legislative Assembly, but also the new president showed interest groups that she is vulnerable to public opinion.
“Whatever political honeymoon the Chinchilla administration had was over right then,” Castro said.
For more on this story, see the June 25 print or digital edition of The Tico Times.