Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a strong constitution, which guarantees all citizens and foreigners equality, freedom and rights. The country has had at least 60 years of uninterrupted democracy, making it one of the most stable countries in Latin America.
Costa Rica’s government is divided into independent executive, legislative and judicial powers. Executive responsibilities are vested in a president, who is the country’s center of power. As well, there are 2 vice presidents and a cabinet designated by the president. The legislative power is vested on the Legislative Assembly and the judicial power is vested on the Supreme Court. The president, vice presidents and Legislative Assemble delegates, also known as deputies, are elected for four-year terms.
Since 2003, Costa Rica’s constitution allows ex-presidents to run reelection after they have been out of office for at least two presidential terms (8 years); deputies may run for reelection after sitting out one term (4 years). The first president to be reelected in Costa Rica was Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias, whom in 2007 was elected for a second term in a tight and highly contested election. He was succeeded by Laura Chinchilla who won the election of February, 2010 – the first woman to be elected president of the country.
Costa Rica’s Supreme Electoral Body also enjoys a lot of independence. The Supreme Court is divided into four chambers: one dealing with Constitutional Law, one dealing with Criminal Law, and two dealing with Civil Law and Merchant Law. The Legislative Assembly appoints the Supreme Court judges for a minimum term of eight years. They are automatically reappointed unless voted out by the Legislative Assembly. Twenty-four judges now serve the Supreme Court.
The offices of Costa Rica’s Comptroller General of the Republic (who checks public expenditures and prevents the executive power from overspending), the Solicitor General and the Ombudsman exercise oversight of the government. These institutions, along with the ‘Sala IV’, play an increasingly important role in governing Costa Rica.
Costa Rica's seven provinces, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, Guanacaste and San Jose, the country’s capital, are ruled by a governor appointed by the president. The provinces are subdivided into 81 counties, which are divided into a total of 421 districts ruled by municipal councils. Nowadays, the municipalities have steadily lost their exclusive rights of central authority and now are relegated to fulfilling such functions as garbage collections, casino and liquor licensing, public lightning and streets’ maintenance.