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The problem of defecting deputies in Costa Rica – 10/17/2021 – Latinoamérica21

More than a fifth of the representatives of the Costa Rican parliament, 21%, declared themselves independent. This proportion is scandalous and mainly reflects the weakness of political parties.

The massive defection is mainly due to the fact that in Costa Rica, parties, especially the new or small ones that aspire to position themselves in the political arena, elect candidates without any rigor whatsoever, with the sole aim of winning, no matter the consequences.

Thus, for example, the National Restoration Party, which surprised to emerge as a political force, going from 1 to 14 deputies, split into two groups of seven shortly after the start of the legislature.

The National Integration Party won four seats thanks to its presidential media candidate, but even before they took office there were internal fractures, and one of its members began his work as an independent deputy. On the way, other deputies left the bench through which they arrived in Congress.

To date, only the Liberación Nacional fraction remains united, and the Frente Amplio party remains out of the count, as it has only one deputy.

Practically all parliamentary groups had desertions from their ranks, creating a serious problem for political negotiation and greater atomization in an already multi-party parliament.

This, no doubt, has set off more than one alarm with unreasonable proposals.

​Deputies represent the nation, not the parties

Recognizing the problem of parliamentary defection, there are those who believe that the defection of politicians from their parties can be fought by removing the credentials of the deputy who resigns from his bench.

But this solution, in addition to being unconstitutional, is based on a very mistaken view of the representation of deputies.

Article 106 of the Costa Rican Constitution proclaims one of the fundamental principles that define representative democracy and that also embodies one of the main achievements of the French Revolution: the representative mandate.

The Constitution states that “deputies have this character for the nation.” In other words, deputies represent the nation as a whole, not their parties, provinces, or any other interest group that supports them.

Therefore, one should not confuse what deputies represent with how they are elected.

Deputies group together and are elected by the parties as a reflection of the different views or ideological postures of our society. At least that’s how it should be. This proportional representation that reflects political pluralism in the Legislative Assembly is another great achievement.

But what happened in Costa Rica is that the new or small parties that aspire to be big choose candidates without any kind of rigor.

In some cases, parties choose candidates to fill the fields, and in others they look to media bigwigs to try to increase their electoral flow.

Therefore, whether or not these people agree with the party’s postulates is irrelevant, because the important thing for the parties is to win at any cost.

The problem is that after elections and throughout legislatures, factions split and independent deputies begin to swarm, which not only weakens political parties but also democracy itself.

Solutions for transfuguism

If anyone wants to, there are several structural and institutional ways to discourage Costa Rican transfuguism.

First, the heads of parliamentary benches should have greater power to allocate or withdraw resources from their deputies.

Whoever leads the legislative fraction must be able to allocate all kinds of resources to their deputies and, when a deputy deviates from party discipline, all kinds of tools, such as support staff, material resources or even important positions in parliamentary committees, can be reduced or limited for the deputy.

For example, in some countries with strong democracies, a deputy who is chairman or secretary of a committee receives additional compensation for this responsibility. If this congressman declares himself independent or abandons party discipline, the leader of the bench is free to remove and replace him, thus losing the extra financial resources he receives. The incentive is to stay within the party and be disciplined.

Second, there should be a parliamentary career.

A loyal and disciplined deputy seeks to be re-elected, and the possibility of successive re-elections is an incentive to remain in the parliamentary group and not abandon it.

But just as rewarding the good deputy with the possibility of re-election is an appropriate incentive, it is equally the responsibility of the parties not to open the door to defective deputies in order to discourage the practice.

In addition to these mechanisms to deter congressmen, the number of deputies should be increased, which could help dilute their individual power.

It is important to note that Costa Rica, with 57 deputies, has one of the parliaments with the lowest number of representatives in the region, so the relative weight of a defecting deputy represents a major problem for a considerable segment of the population and for the political scaffolding as a whole.

Twelve independent deputies in 57 seats (21%) do not have the same power as 12 independents in 100 seats (12%). Thus, declaring oneself independent in a large group, where individual power is less, is a disincentive.

Despite these incentive-based solutions to avoid parliamentary transfuguism, the key to reversing these practices is for parties to avoid falling into simplistic solutions to attract votes and demonstrate responsibility to citizens.

To do this, they must choose candidates with a solid ideological coherence and who represent the values ​​of their own party, in order to guarantee a minimum level of loyalty.

And, finally, the voter is co-responsible for whoever arrives at the Legislative Assembly. It is your vote that determines which parties win seats.

Therefore, it is he who is obliged to identify the parties that present the best candidates, those who share his own vision.

Of course, this would be much easier if he were directly involved with the parties and abandoned the convenience of merely complaining on the networks, another of the fads of the moment.

With solid and ideologically coherent parties, with a much more responsible and electorally active citizenship, in addition to some structural changes, such as increasing the number of deputies or allowing successive re-elections, we would probably have far fewer independent deputies and a much more stable Parliament.

Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima

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