By Jose David Araya Navarro - International Relations student
In Costa Rica, there are 57 people working as deputies, but how many of the Costa Rican inhabitants can name immediately more than five of them if asked? The percentage of people that achieve it, would probably be low. And it is possible that the names mentioned are going to be the ones that most of the time are involved in polemic statements or proposing controversial law projects. The important thing here is that those 57 men and women get to decide what is the best for the country and the people. However, we do not even know their names while they are in Congress and much less at the time of the elections.
Basically, Congress represents the people, but they are not chosen by the people, one could say that: “Well, in the elections you chose a political party, so technically they think as that political party does”, sadly this affirmation is wrong at many levels. As it is known, the list of possible deputies in each political group is closed, meaning people do not have access to it, causing that the candidates are chosen through controversial means; rumours include that they must pay for the position.
This means that there’s no way those deputies are representing the people that indirectly chose them. As it is said by Barrantes and Guzmán (2015), a reform that “opens” those lists, so the communities are the ones choosing the candidates, would tend to strengthen the link between representative and represented and so improving the legitimacy inside election systems. Solid argument, since that’s how democracy per se works, the decision of the majority. Considering that these congresspeople truly have power, it is arguable if the current mechanism of election fits the best to the purpose.
Another aspect that would benefit if the elections were direct, is that people can choose informed or at least would have access to the information of the candidates. They will have an opinion on which ones look suitable for taking such a responsibility. That also would avoid having people in such positions, without any academic preparation or prior experience related to topics relevant to the job, as it is happening with some people at Congress during this period.
This opens a debate into another topic: Do the requirements for becoming a Congressperson should be higher? Article 108 of the political constitution establishes the minimum qualifications for becoming a deputy are being a practicing citizen, be Costa Rican by birth, or by naturalization with ten years of residence in the country after obtaining nationality and having at least 21 years old. Requisites that are not hard at all to comply with, and for a person that’s going to earn about $8000 monthly (being a high salary in the country), and have a lot of responsibilities in topics like public policy, economy, human rights, security, health, anyone could that the ones taking the job may need certain other types of qualifications, especially for the impact their decisions could have in a whole country.
So, having a direct election of the congress people would be a great improvement in the exercise of politics as a citizen, guaranteeing at least that the elected candidates are known by the people they would have power over. But, in order to make a relevant impact with regard to a better performance of this legislative branch, a great amelioration would be to reform the minimum qualifications for being elected as a deputy.