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History, Democracy and Stable Government

Luis Alberto Monge Alvarez, Jose Figueres Ferrer, presidential runoff, Oscar Arias Sanchez, Liberacion Nacional

Although late 19th- and early 20th-century Costa Rican politics had its share of irregularities, the clear trend was away from military solutions toward a more orderly political process. Costa Ricans took pride in having more teachers than soldiers and a higher standard of living than elsewhere in Central America. Coffee remained the mainstay of the economy, but a growing urban middle class began to challenge the political control of the coffee elite with more modern political parties. The reformist National Republican Party (Partido Republicano Nacional, or PRN) won the presidency with Leon Cortes Castro in 1936 and again in 1940 with Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia. When the PRN attempted to continue in power after defeat in 1948, a new political force, the National Liberation Party (Partido de Liberacion Nacional, or PLN), led by Jose Figueres Ferrer, overthrew it and became the country’s dominant party, a position it has since retained. Under moderate governments, Costa Rica became Latin America’s most democratic country. Figueres served as president from 1953 to 1958 and again from 1970 to 1974. The PLN won the presidency in 1974 with Daniel Oduber, but differences between him and Figueres, along with economic troubles, brought an opposition coalition headed by Rodrigo Carazo Odio to power in 1978.

Costa Rica experienced rapid population growth and consequent strains on its economy in the early 1980s. The PLN returned to power in 1982, when Luis Alberto Monge Alvarez was elected president; he was succeeded by Oscar Arias Sanchez, also of the PLN, in 1986. During the late 1980s Arias won consensus among Central American leaders for a plan to bring peace and stability to the region. Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier, son of former president Rafael Calderon, won the presidential election of February 1990, running as the candidate of the Social Christian Unity Party. In February 1994 Jose Maria Figueres Olsen of the PLN was elected president. Figueres is the son of former president Jose Figueres Ferrer. In February 1998 conservative economist Miguel Angel Rodriguez of the Social Christian Unity Party narrowly defeated Jose Miguel Corrales of the ruling PLN in a presidential election that centered on Costa Rica’s economic problems. The Social Christian Unity Party held on to the presidency in 2002 when Abel Pacheco was elected president in the country's first presidential runoff. The runoff was held because neither candidate received more than 40 percent of the vote in the initial presidential election.

Article key phrases:

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