For the most part, Costa Rica has held to a tradition of orderly, democratic rule. The nation is a republic organized under the constitution of 1949, based on the constitution of 1871. A president, two vice presidents, and a unicameral congress (the Legislative Assembly) of 57 members (in 1999), apportioned by provinces, are all directly elected for four-year terms. Runoff provisions are in place in case no candidate wins an outright majority in the first round vote. The cabinet (composed of 17 members in 1997) is appointed by the president, who may also remove any of its members. For every three assembly deputies, one substitute deputy (suplente) is elected to obviate any subsequent need for by-elections. After each population census, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal proportions the number of deputies for each province. This body, consisting of three magistrates elected by the Supreme Court for six-year terms, also supervises all other aspects of the electoral process. Suffrage is universal and obligatory for all persons of 18 years or more.
The constitution bars all high government officials from running for the legislature or the presidency while already in office. The president, cabinet ministers, and all government employees are forbidden to interfere with or to participate in election campaigns or to hold party office. The constitution guarantees equality before the law, as well as freedom of speech, assembly, press, and organization. In addition, it guarantees foreigners the same rights as Costa Rican citizens. However, foreigners may not participate in political affairs, nor may members of the clergy.