Legislative makeup will have big impact on country

As presidential candidates debate, as they did again Sunday night, legislative candidates are being overlooked. But the legislature also is important.

Costa Ricans will vote twice Feb. 2. There are presidential and legislative ballots. In many cases, the legislative candidate is an unknown. The legislative vote generally parallels the presidential one. A voter who prefers one party’s presidential candidate probably also will vote for the party’s legislative candidates.

All of the candidates, both presidential and legislative, have been selected by party conventions. Each party has a list of legislative candidates. When the public vote is tallied, legislative seats are distributed based on the proportion of the vote for the party in each province.

Successful legislative candidates can hire other party members as advisers and other office positions. So the party faithful  can be rewarded based on that vote, too.

The proportional distribution of legislative seats guarantees that Frente Amplio will have more legislative deputies for the next four-year term than the single representative in the current legislature. The party’s presidential candidate, José María Villalta Florez-Estrada, may not win, but he will boost the vote for the party, particularly among the young intellectuals n the Central Valley.

Frente Amplio, the Costa Rican manifestation of the Community party, seeks progressive social legislation, such as a hike in the minimum wages. So the party’s presence is likely to influence the course of legislation. The impact will be stronger if Frente Amplio gains enough seats to negotiate for a coalition with another party to gain control of the 57-member assembly.

Villalta appears to be the main target of other political parties. Liberación Nacional warns that he will turn Costa Rica into another economic basket case like Venezuela. Anti-Villalta commercials and YouTube videos show him protesting along with students in rock-throwing confrontations with police in front of the legislative buildings. More poll results this week will show if the demonization is effective.

Villalta gave a summary of the party’s position when he appeared with four other candidates on Channel 9’s debate Sunday night. The debate will be rebroadcast tonight at 8 p.m. He favors increases in the minimum salaries, and he is suspicious of government concessions for public purposes and the privatization of state services.

While serving in the current legislature, he also proposed price controls on medicines.

Appearing with Villalta Sunday were Otto Guevara Guth of Movimiento Libertario, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, Johnny Araya Monge of Partido Liberación Nacional and Rudolfo Piza de Rocafort of the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana.

There are 13 presidential candidates and as many national parties. The five who debated Sunday were picked based on their position in polls. Some of the minor candidates went to the Sala IV constitutional court in an unsuccessful effort to force the court to demand that private debates include all candidates.

The Canal 9 debate was a lightning affair with candidates getting sometimes as little as 15 seconds to respond. Then each had the opportunity to quiz their rivals.

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