Legislative meltdown keeps president from giving speech

The Asamblea Legislativa collapsed Sunday to such an extent that President Laura Chinchilla was unable to give her annual state of the state speech.

The 57 lawmakers were supposed to vote in a morning session to pick leaders for the coming years. Opposition parties in the legislature had formed a pact that would give 31 votes to Juan Carlos Mendoza and make him president of the assembly. Just 29 voters were needed.

Leaders of the opposition appeared to have concerns that members of their parties would not vote the way they had promised. So the opposition leaders sought a vote that was witnessed by their assistants and with pens of various colors that would identify the votes by party.

Annie Saborío was acting president because Luis Gerardo Villanueva of the Partido Liberación Nacional was a candidate. She sought a secret ballot with each lawmaker writing down the name of his or her choice while seated alone at their desks.

Eventually 30 members of the opposition parties bolted and walked out of the room. One man who had promised Mendoza his vote did not make the meeting due to illness. Although the opposition party members sought to break the quorum, Ms. Saborio declared that the voting already was in progress. The votes of the 30 were counted as null votes and eventually applied to the Villanueva total. So he was declared re-elected unanimously.

But at 1 p.m. after getting a message from Ms. Chinchilla, Villanueva resigned and said another election was warranted.
Meanwhile, on the streets the May 1 workers parade was in progress. Via cell telephones and other methods the marchers obtained another focus. They showed up at the legislative complex demanding Villanueva resign.

The crowd of union members was a friendly audience for opposition party members who gave impromptu speeches outside the legislative building.

At 6 p.m. Liberación lawmakers and two supporters from evangelical parties gathered and gave lengthy statements against the opposition party members who did not show up. Lawmakers Fabio Molino called the opposition legislative leaders fascists who could not endure a secret ballot.

Liberación was widely believed to have made agreements with some on the opposition side that would have won Villanueva the presidency of the assembly. Opposition leaders were seen as seeking to oversee the voting to enforce the agreement they had made to back Mendoza.

By this time, Casa Presidencial already was taking steps to keep foreign ambassadors and other special guests from showing up for the Chinchilla speech.

Shortly after 6 p.m. Casa Presidencial sent a message that Ms. Chinchilla had deposited a copy of her speech with the legislature so as to comply with a constitutional provision that she make a report each May 1.

The message said that the crisis in the legislature prevented her from doing so.

Lawmakers will continue to meet today to engineer a vote on the leadership.

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