The Latin American Election Super Cycle and the Trends in the Region’s Democracy

April 08, 2021 11:51 AM

Democracy in the Latin American continent has never been a permanent, safe, or standardized feature of politics.

latin americaIt can be speculated that the current election cycle will be based on a foundation of protest votes, a high degree of polarization, political fragmentation, and ideological heterogeneity. (Photo source: Reuters)

Dr Aparaajita Pandey, 

Democracy in the Latin American continent has never been a permanent, safe, or standardized feature of politics. Most countries tend to oscillate between not just the extremes in the range of political parties but also across the spectrum of political frameworks. The new election cycle for the region after the 2014-2016 cycle, began in 2019. While election cycles are not a unique occurrence by any stretch of imagination, this one is infused with an unforeseen and unprecedented pandemic, and a people disillusioned and dissatisfied with their political choices and in some places even their political options.

Due to Covid – 19 elections in many countries were deferred and while in some places it gave governments a chance to stay in power a little longer, it also added to the dissatisfaction and frustration that people were already feeling. 2019 had been a year of social protests for most of Latin America and 2020 would have been no different had there been no contagious virus deterring protesters. However, social movements did have an impact on the politics of the region and the trend points towards a continuation of political alterations in the region.

This year has already seen the beginning of the election cycle. 2021 is going to witness a total of fifteen elections; both Presidential and legislative. Poverty, rising debt, dilapidated health systems and high rates of unemployment as well as a rising rate of crime would all feature prominently on most election campaigns. However, with a dissatisfied and frustrated populace, most countries in the region find themselves with a severe paucity of obvious front runners and hung parliaments do seem like a likely reality. Although, the regional economic growth is projected at 3.5 per cent; most economists believe that it is not going to be enough to recuperate the economic losses that people have suffered since 2014, at the same time a projected growth does not automatically translate to systemic changes in the economic models that most countries require in the region.

It can be speculated that the current election cycle will be based on a foundation of protest votes, a high degree of polarization, political fragmentation, and ideological heterogeneity. Most elections till now have ended in multiple rounds of ballots and the trend is set to continue in the upcoming elections. Anti – incumbency would also be a feature if one was to estimate, based on the votes against Mauricio Macri in Argentina and also against Evo Morales even though Luis Arce is also an indigenous man with a left of centre leaning from the same political party as that of Morales.

It can be deduced that the region is mostly ready for a political change and one can expect new faces, or those that are old and trusted but still the opposite of those in power. One can observe that even in countries that have conducted the first round of elections, a large part of the voter base still remains undecided. In Ecuador, the Presidential and Legislative elections were held on February 7th and still there is little clarity on who might eventually be elected as the President of Ecuador.

Chile on the other hand has its own set of specific problems; where a referendum for a new constitution has been passed and 2021 would be the year when it conducts its municipal, regional, legislative, and Presidential elections. It would be difficult to project the twists that politics of Chile might witness. Presently the polls reflect ten names as Presidential candidates from all hues of the political spectrum. Peru that is set to hold elections later this year is in the same situation as there is a lack of clear front runners and most voters seem dejected from Peruvian politics and don’t show a great deal of faith in the candidates

Nicaragua could see an extension of the 14-year Presidential term of Daniel Ortega or the crown being passed to his wife, and current vice president; Rosario Murrillo. Unless there is electoral reform before November 7th which seems unlikely. El Salvador has voted in favour of Bukele in the legislative elections earlier this year and it seems like the voting patterns would continue to favour Bukele.

Mexico and Argentina would also witness legislative elections in June and October. While these are not directly linked to the Presidential seat; their results would be a litmus test for AMLO and Fernandes. These elections should be emblematic of whether they continue to be favoured by the public. Brazilian elections would be interesting to witness in 2022 as Bolsonaro seems to be inspired by the riots of the Capitol Hill and the world is intrigued by the return of Lula.

As the continent gets ready to vote again, it is simultaneously hit by a new wave of the Corona virus and it is possible that one sees a deferring of elections once more. The long – term impact that the pandemic, economic shrinkage, and popular dissatisfaction have on democracy in Latin America remains to be seen.

(The author is an Asst Professor at the Dept of Public Policy in Amity University, and a PhD in Latin American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)

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