Institutional Change and Political Conflict: Evaluating Alternative Explanations of Electoral Reform in Costa Rica

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Fabrice Lehoucq, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: This article seeks to identify the conditions that prompt executives and legislators to reform electoral laws, especially those with far-ranging and redistributive consequences. It pursues this objective by evaluating the ability of alternative models of political behaviour and institutional reform to account for the promulgation of the 1946 Electoral Code in Costa Rica, one of the oldest and most stable democracies in Latin America and in the world, more generally. The 1946 Electoral Code, among other reasons, merits study because its enactment threatened to loosen the governing party's grip on the presidency in the 1948 elections and promised to eradicate — if not reduce — its majority in Congress in the 1946 midterm as well as 1948 elections. A central conclusion of this article is that, contrary to some recent critiques of strategic models of institutional change, the inability of legislative seat maximization or career protection models to explain the promulgation of the 1946 Electoral Code does not mean that rational choice theories cannot account for the reform of electoral laws. By developing a third model that focuses upon the interest incumbents have in promoting political stability, this article shows that the creation of institutions that promise to punish key sectors of the ruling bloc is prompted, in part, by the threat of a civil war that at least some incumbents fear losing' The establishment of institutions with such redistributive repercussions also stems from the willingness of some within the ruling bloc to fashion a new alliance with those in the opposition who also share an interest in political stability.

Additional Information

Electoral Studies
Language: English
Date: 1995
Costa Rica, Elections, Political Science, Government Reform

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