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Starting off on the wrong foot

May 1, 2014

A lackluster victory is what the Citizen Action Party earned today in gaining control of the Legislative Assembly’s directorate. Instead of today’s events being seen as a brilliant triumph, the PAC has mud on its face. Yes, they won, but not before opening wounds and creating distrust among key supporters who helped put them in office.

The political impulse with which the new ruling party made its debut has left a bad taste in the mouths of many. From day one, PAC sought the allied votes of fundamentalist Christians in the legislature – those who belong to Justo Orozco’s party – just as the former ruling National Liberation Party had been criticized for doing in the past four years.

The problem PAC created for itself is one of image. We all know the importance of first impressions, and that golden opportunity to begin on the right foot has now disappeared for the former opposition party of PAC. They now must work to overcome this setback and avoid further diminishing the brief honeymoon the party has so far enjoyed with an overwhelming majority of voters since February.

Thankfully for those of us who gave those lawmakers our votes, the disastrous agreement between PAC and the National Renovation Party never materialized. In a matter of hours, the pressure from outraged supporters weighed heavily. A significant number of voters who are angry that human rights issues were negotiated in the first place forced PAC reconsider its position. In the end, PAC gained enough votes to win the Legislative Assembly presidency, thanks to the Social Christian Unity Party.

But what would have happened if the reaction from the LGBT community and other sectors hadn’t been swift and strong?

This regrettable episode leaves us with more questions than answers. Here are some of those questions:

–How important are the issues that PAC lawmakers are negotiating, and how much does it matter with whom they negotiate? More simply, do the ends justify the means?

–Was it vitally important, as in life or death, that PAC win the legislative directorate? Did it merit negotiations with the most radically conservative elements of our country?

–What symbolic value does PAC see in the fact that its first publicized action as the ruling party (thankfully it never materialized) was a broken campaign promise?

–Would an agreement not to discuss same-sex civil unions for one year have affected the human rights agenda, or is that issue not going to be discussed for a year anyway, with or without an agreement with the evangelical block?

We have four long years ahead of us to learn the answers to these questions, but the lessons we’ve learned in the past 24 hours are crystal clear. On the plus side, 1.3 million Costa Ricans voted for PAC, and there is nothing preventing us from criticizing the actions of the party. None of us signed a blank check.

If they’re clever, PAC’s legislative block will learn from this and take note that we are not prepared to cede an inch on issues that represent the true change we demanded at the polls.

On the minus side, we are convinced that religious groups are powerful enough to dictate our national politics and set the legislative agenda if we let down our collective guard down.

Nancy De Lemos is a journalist and former director in Costa Rica for the news agency EFE. A graduate of the University of Costa Rica, she now works in communication for global environmental NGOs.

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