Latin American Elections 2017-2018

The closely-watched elections in Europe and the United States in 2016 and 2017 teased and befuddled commentators looking for a pattern in those democracies’ politics. Now attention turns to Latin America where nine Central and South American countries hold elections through 2018. Populism may have seen its better days in Latin America, as countries move toward the center in politics.

Some issues are common to most of Latin America. Corruption has infected the highest levels of government. A Brazilian construction company, Odebrecht, bribed high officials in several Latin American countries to win government contracts, shaking faith in democratic politics. Governments have been unable to stem the epidemic of violent crime that threatens both public safety and economic advancement. Sluggish growth leaves large segments of the population suffering in poverty. The annual survey of 20,000 interviewees in 18 countries by Latinobarometro found continuing dissatisfaction with their democracies. The 2017 report called the absence of social and political leadership as the region’s greatest deficiencies.

The presidential election in Chile on November 19th resulted in need for a runoff. Sebastian Pinera, the conservative billionaire and former president, failed to receive a majority of the vote, necessitating a December 17th runoff against the center-left Senator Alejandro Guillier. Pinera won the runoff with 54.6% of the vote, moving the country solidly back to the right.

The November 26th presidential election in Honduras was contested when initial results reported the re-election of center-right President Juan Orlando Hernandez. The electoral court announced a recount. On December 17th the court declared Orlando Hernandez the winner after three weeks of protests resulting in the deaths of at least17 people.

Costa Rica’s general elections are scheduled for February 4th with a total of 13 candidates running for the presidency. Like Chile, Costa Rica has a two round election. If no candidate wins at least 40% of the vote on February 4th, a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held in April. An on-going scandal over importing cement from China has brought many high-profile politicians and businessmen into the on-going investigation. Centrist businessman, legislator and former government minister Antonio Alvarez is expected to lead in the first round. However, dissatisfaction with his party may propel whoever is the second-place finisher into the presidency.

Colombia will hold legislative elections on March 11th and first-round presidential election on May 27th. If no candidate receives a majority in the vote for president, there will be a second round on June 17th. The historic peace deal that ended five decades of battle with the FARC guerrillas will be a factor in elections as voters line up both for and against. A new center-left coalition that supports the peace agreement and the candidate it puts forward will likely make it to the second round. The current president, Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the FARC agreement.

Paraguay’s right-wing president announced he will not seek re-election in the April 22nd presidential election. Paraguayan Senator Mario Abdo Benitez, a lawmaker with ties to a former Paraguayan dictator, won the ruling Colorado Party’s presidential primary on December 17th, defeating the current finance minister who had the support of the President. Promises to end corruption in one of the poorest countries in Latin America have not ended the influence of powerful interests and the patronage system.

Mexico’s presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for July 1st. The candidate with the most votes wins the presidential election, even if the margin is less than 50%; the president is limited to one term. The current president, Enrique Pena Nieto of the centrist party PRI, came to power in 2012 amidst high hopes of reducing drug cartel violence, but the homicide rate reached a 20-year high. His approval fell below 20% due to failure to deliver on promises and perceived dishonor toward Mexico in his interaction with U.S. President Donald Trump. PRI will select its candidate for president in February; former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade is favored. Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City, is running for president for the third time. Margarita Zavala, a former first lady, is running as an independent.

Brazil will hold legislative and presidential elections October 7th; a second-round presidential election will occur October 28th if no candidate receives 50% of the vote. Many of Brazil’s politicians and officials have been tainted by the Odebrecht scandal. President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary laws. She and another former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, were subsequently charged with corruption related to the Odebrecht case. Both are from the leftist Workers’ Party. Although Lula da Silva was convicted of corruption, he remains free on appeal, and he is supported by the Workers’ Party as its presidential candidate. Brazil is home to 25 of the 50 most homicidal cities in the world. That record suggests why Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing former army parachutist and proponent of torture and gay re-education, currently places second in polling. Geraldo Alckmin, governor of Sao Paulo, is the candidate of the center-left Social Democratic Party.

Lastly, Venezuela is due to hold presidential and legislative elections in December 2018. If an election is held, Nicolas Maduro, the current president who has continued the anti-democratic policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, will do all he can to maintain power. He has driven the country to economic collapse, as inflation and crime are rampant, food and other necessities are scarce, and lack of medical care has led to preventable deaths. Thousands are fleeing the country. As described by The Economist, Maduro is “neither competent nor popular, but he will probably win anyway” as all opposition is eliminated.

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