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Country Reports

Municipal elections in Costa Rica under new auspices

PLN remains the strongest force but is still considered the loser - Unidos Podemos and PUSC make significant gains

Costa Rica is still one of the most stable and best-developed democracies in Latin America. However, the growing disenchantment with politics is reflected in the falling voter turnout. Only 31.96 per cent of all voters exercised their right to vote. In 2020, this figure was still 36.4 per cent. Verbal attacks against the renowned Supreme Electoral Court by supporters of the government, whose parties were excluded from the mayoral election for formal reasons, also caused controversy in the run-up to the elections. Despite this, the international election observers were once again able to certify that the country met the highest democratic standards. According to the election observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS), the election took place without incident. There were 6,212 local politicians up for election. Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces and 84 cantons. Each canton consists of several districts (distrito). There are 84 elected mayors who head a canton (alcalde) and two deputy mayors (vicealcalde). Each canton has a parliament (concejo municipal), which is roughly equivalent to a district council and whose members are called 'regidores'. In addition to the district councillors with voting rights, each district elects a district representative (síndico), who represents the interests of the district in the district assemblies at cantonal level, and four district councillors (concejales), who support the district representative.

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Elections characterised by innovations

This ballot was characterised by several innovations. These elections differed from previous municipal elections in three key respects:

What made this election special was that, as a result of several corruption scandals at municipal level, unrestricted re-election was abolished for the first time by legislative amendment. An incumbent mayor can now only stand for re-election once, i.e. govern for a maximum of two uninterrupted terms. As a result, 47 incumbent mayors were no longer able to stand for election.

In addition, the quota rule on gender parity was applied in full for the first time in the history of local elections. Since 2009, the so-called vertical parity rule has been in place, according to which parties must alternate between men and women on their lists. A new requirement has now been added: the number of women and men on the lists of each party nationwide must be equal. In terms of gender parity, Costa Rica is one of the world's leading countries at national level with 47 per cent of women in the Asamblea Legislativa. At municipal level, however, only eight women were elected to a total of 82 mayoral offices in the last elections. As a result, female politicians have called for the application of horizontal parity, which has posed considerable challenges for some parties.

These challenges meant that, for the first time in the history of local elections, the national government was not represented by any party. President Rodrigo Chaves ran in the 2022 parliamentary and presidential elections with the Partido Progreso Social Democrático (PPSD) party. However, in the run-up to the local elections, supporters of the government founded two parties that were supposed to stand for Chaves' policies: Aquí Costa Rica Manda (ACRM) and Pueblo Soberano (PS). After nine of the ten members of parliament from the government faction PPSD expressed their support for the new party Aquí Costa Rica Manda (ACRM), they were excluded from the Partido Progreso Social Democrático. As Aquí Costa Rica Manda was unable to fulfil the requirements of the quota system when nominating its candidates for mayoral offices and district representatives, ACRM was only approved by the Supreme Electoral Court for the election of district councillors. Pueblo Soberano was almost completely excluded from the election for the same formal reasons and could only run in individual cantons. It is therefore difficult to interpret the local elections as a vote on the government work of the relatively popular president, Rodrigo Chaves.

The full-length publication is only available in German.


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Evelyn Gaiser

Evelyn Gaiser bild

Head of the KAS office in Costa Rica +506 2296 6676


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