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Costa Rica has a way to go for women in politics, say election monitors

Despite electing its first woman president in 2010, Costa Rica should take more steps to increase the number of women running for elected office, according to a preliminary report from the Organization of American States’ election monitors.

Led by former Mexican National Action Party presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, the OAS mission expressed its concern over the number of women up for election in last Sunday’s vote, as well as more equitable access to public campaign financing.

The report lamented that none of the 13 political parties fielded women candidates for president and noted that 77 percent of the political parties’ legislative rolls were headed by men. Provinces where women did top the party candidate lists tended to have the fewest seats allocated in the 57-person Legislative Assembly, “which significantly diminishes their possibility of being elected,” the report said.

Costa Rica does not directly elect its lawmakers, voting instead for political parties allotted seats based on proportional representation.

Election monitors recommended the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) develop mechanisms with the country’s political parties to strengthen and incentivize leadership by women. The mission suggested that at least three of the candidate lists for the seven provinces presented by each political party should be headed by women.

Public campaign financing

Costa Rica offers public campaign financing for political parties to run for office, but the report observed that some of the current practices hinder small parties and favor those with deep pockets.

The government calculates access to public campaign funds on the number of votes a political party wins in the election and a percentage of gross domestic product. Funds are reimbursed after the election but parties can request 15 percent of their funds upfront if they can provide collateral.

Additionally, survey results play an important role in determining whether a party can get access to campaign loans from public banks. The OAS urged survey companies to be transparent with their methodology and that they follow internationally recognized norms because of the importance assigned to polls to solicit public loans.

The mission observed:

Collateral requirements, the insufficient percentage of (funds) advanced to parties and the determining role of polls to secure access to the remainder of the state’s contribution creates unequal conditions for access to financial resources for electoral campaigns.

While the report said that 88 percent of the media coverage focused on the top five candidates, making it difficult for smaller parties to get their messages out, most of the national media – 66 percent – was neutral in its coverage.

TSE Press Assistant Cedric Solano said that the election authority would wait for the OAS mission to present its final report before commenting on the recommendations.

The OAS electoral observation mission consisted of 22 international observers and noted that the elections Sunday were “characterized by a high level of credibility,” and appeared normal and tranquil.

Citizen Action Party opposition candidate Luis Guillermo Solís finished ahead of ruling party National Liberation candidate Johnny Araya in the Feb. 2 election, pushing the presidential race into a runoff scheduled for April 6.


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