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Costa Rica Government: Balance of Power

The Costa Rica Government is a representative government, modeled as a republic with separation of powers. While the driving elements that created this government were similar to those concerns faced by the framers of the United States constitution, the actual display and spread of power is somewhat different.

The constitution that forms the Costa Rica government is comparatively new; it was ratified in 1949. It guarantees all citizens and foreigners equal representation before the law, guarantees property rights held by individuals, guarantees the right to petition and assembly, and several other 'modern republican' rights. The constitution lacks the Federal versus State dichotomy that the United States constitution has, and it bears some resemblance to a fusion of United States constitutional theory and a Whitehall-style Parliament. Like the US government, it has a clear division of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative functions and branches.

Government of Costa Rica: The Three Branches

Executive Branch: President of Costa Rica, Council, and Ministers

Until recently, the president of the Costa Rica government may not be re-elected; this came about as the result of an amendment in 1969. In 2005, this amendment was annulled, and the original term limitations were put into place, with the President able to run for re-election after sitting out two presidential terms of four years.

In addition to being the head of State, the President of Costa Rica is also the leader of a seventeen member executive council, made up of two vice presidents and fifteen ministers. The junior vice president is usually, but not always, a member of an opposition party from the president; the fifteen ministers are roughly comparable to Cabinet level positions in the US or the UK.

One of the chief jobs of the President is to submit a budget to the legislature. The legislature of the Costa Rican government may amend the budget submitted by the President; they also appoint the Comptroller of the Republic, who has veto power on aspects of the budget as well.

Legislative Branch

The Legislative power of Costa Rica's government sits with the Assembly of Deputies, or the Legislative Assemblies. There are 57 of them, elected to four year terms that are coincident with the terms of the Presidency. The Legislative Assembly appoints the members of the Supreme Court; unlike the United States, Supreme Court judges in the government of Costa Rica serve for eight year terms; their terms automatically renew unless they're voted out by the Legislative Assembly.

Because of a Latin American concern with the fidelity of election results, the government of Costa Rica also appoints an Election Tribunal; the members of the Tribunal serve for six years, and there are three appointed on staggered terms. The election tribunal exercises sweeping authority on how elections are run by the government of Costa Rica.

Unlike the United States, there are no sub-country territorial organizations with legislative prerogatives. Costa Rica has seven provinces, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and San Jose are all ruled by governors appointed by the President of Costa Rica, but they do not have independent 'seats in the Legislature' like the Senate does. This means that each representative of the Costa Rican government represents about 30,000 to 33,000 people, and the number of representatives for each district can change when censuses are taken.

Unlike the United States 'winner take all' method of vote tallying, candidates for the Costa Rica government's legislature are allocated proportionally to election returns. This does mean that a minor candidate that gets a strong showing in one area may get a proportional seat, and this is thought to encourage more plurality and compromise in legislative decisions.

Judicial Branch

The Judicial branch of the Costa Rica government, unlike the United States judiciary, has the power to appoint all judges in the provincial and county level; this is to keep the job of judge from becoming too politicized by either Legislative appointments (where they could lead to logjams) or riding too much on local elections.

Other quirks are that several functions that would be considered regulatory agencies in the US are treated as Cabinet level ministries in the Costa Rica government, in particular the Comptroller General's office. This means that the Costa Rica government has indirect influence in many areas, which is one of the various Costa Rica facts that Americans find odd.

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