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CAFTA referendum in Costa Rica postponed

Tico Times Weekly, Costa Rica

CAFTA Referendum in Costa Rica Postponed

By Katherine Stanley, Tico Times Staff

5 June 2007

The Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) announced yesterday that it is postponing a nationwide referendum on the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) from Sept. 23 to Oct. 7 as a high court examines whether the assembly violated its procedures in its handling of legislation related to the pact.

Should the justices of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) find errors in the procedure, the Tribunal would have to call off the referendum, according to TSE interim president Luis Antonio Sobrado.

"It’s an unexpected circumstance - one that couldn’t have been evaluated in advance," he told reporters yesterday afternoon.

The cause of that circumstance: a request for a constitutional consulta filed by a group of legislators from the Citizen Action Party (PAC), which leads the fight against the trade pact, and other factions. The Sala IV announced June 1 that it would accept the legislators’ request, combining it with a previous request for constitutional review of CAFTA from Ombudswoman Lisbeth Quesada; the court is expected to respond to both consultations by July 5.

The seven justices’ opinion on whether CAFTA itself violates the Constitution will not be binding, and a referendum could continue even if they find against the pact, Sobrado explained. However, the legislators’ case against the pact, unlike Quesada’s earlier consultation, alleges procedural errors by the Legislative Assembly in handling referendum-related legislation - and Sala IV pronouncements on procedure are binding. Should the justices uphold those allegations, all bets are off.