The 6 Presidential Elections That Could Radically Change The Political Map Of Latin America In 2018

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Source: Instituto Humanitas Unisinos / The Dawn News / January 8, 2018

The electoral year will be intense not only for Brasil, but in other countries of Latin America, where citizens of at least six countries will go to the polls to choose their next president.

The first voting will be in February, in Costa Rica, and the last one could be up to December in Venezuela. During this time Paraguay, Colombia, Mexico, and of course Brazil will also choose a new head of state in elections that could radically redesign the political map of Latin America.

There will still be elections to renovate the legislative and local governments in El Salvador, in March, and in Peru, in October. In terms of Cuba it will determine in April who will succeed the President Raúl Castro, in an indirect and different process than the rest of the countries in the region.

The calendar can still have some surprises like in Honduras with the demand from the opposition that the elections in November which elected Juan Orlando Hernández as president be annulled. Or if the Peruvian political crisis brings the destitution of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, which in December he survived an impeachment trial where he was accused of corruption.

Taking into account just the confirmed elections, which are the principal names in dispute? What ideas do they defend? And what factors will define the result?

February: Costa Rica

The presidential and legislative elections in Costa Rica open a period on February 4. They will be the 17th in the Central American country since the Second Republic was founded in 1949. There are 13 candidates in dispute. At the moment, the favorites are Antonio Álvarez Desanti, of National Liberation, Juan Diego Castro, of National Integration, and Rodolfo Piza, of Social Christian Unity. The center-left ruling party Citizen Action, Carlos Alvarado, is fourth in the polls, which suggest a return of power to the center-right.

The high number of undecided practically guarantees a second round, that, if it happens, would be the first Sunday of April. According to the Center of Research and Political Studies (CIEP in spanish) and the journal University, 40% of those who will be voting have yet to decide on a candidate. The same research shows a similar number of voters who say that they won’t go to the polls or are still thinking about it – voting is mandatory in the country but the rate of abstention surpassed 43% in the last presidential elections of the year 2014.

Luis Guillermo Solís, presidente da Costa Rica
Luis Guillermo Solís. Photo: BBC

All of this is a clear reflection of the discontent of the citizens with the current political parties in a country that identifies corruption as a principal national problem.

April: Paraguay

The general elections in Paraguay, planned for April 22, will be the seventh since redemocratization in 1989. In addition to a new president and vice president, the citizens will also choose governors, senators and representatives for the local parliament as well as for Mercosur. The dispute will be between the Colorado Party, right-wing, that has governed the country for the majority of the last 70 years, and the National Renovated Grand Alliance, a center-left alliance between the Liberal Party and the Guasú Movement, of ex-president Fernando Lugo.

Propaganda eleitoral de Mario Abdo

The candidate of Colorado will be the Senator Mario Abdo Benítez, offspring of the personal secretary of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner, who ruled the country for 35 years. He defeated Santiago Peña in the primaries who was the favorite of President Horacio Cartés.

In terms of the National Renovated Grand Alliance they have as candidate the liberal Efraín Alegre, the movement of Lugo put as a candidate for vice-president the journalist Leonardo Rubín. As candidate for governor, popularly known as “Marito” linked to his party’s more conservative wing, is the favorite. Both him and his principal rival are promising changes in relation to the current government, including harsh criticisms of Benítez to President Cartés.

May: Colombia

After legislative elections in March, the Presidential dispute expected for May 27 will dominate everyone’s attention in the country.

Rodrigo Londoño

Everything points towards a second round, in June, without a clear favorite in the elections that will be decisive for the peace agreements with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -FARC-. The participation of the ex-guerrilla group with the same acronym but with the name Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, certainly makes these elections special. The possibility of its leader, Rodrigo Lodoño, known as Timoleón Jiménez or Timochenko, being amongst the favorites is low.

The position of the candidates in relation to the peace agreements is what best defines the six who have the greatest chance, according to a poll done by the magazine Semana. On one side there are the harsh critics of the process, the uribista Iván Duque and the conservative Marta Lucía Ramírez, with ex-vice-president Germán Vargas Lleras in a more vague situation. On the side of the more favorable, the principal negotiator of the agreements Humberto de la Calle, the former mayor of Bogotá and the former governor of Antioquía, Sergio Fajardo, are the ones who lead the polls.

There is still a long way to go, and the possible alliances between these candidates and other figures in dispute, like the ultra-conservative Alejandro Ordóñez, could change this panorama, while issues like economy and corruption will have great importance.

July: Mexico

There has also not been a clear favorite for the Mexican elections to be held on July 1, however left-wing Andrés Manuel López Obrador is leading almost all of the polls.

He was already almost president in two occasions: in 2006, he was beat by Felipe Calderón with a difference of 0.56% votes, and in 2012 he lost to the current president Enrique Peña Nieto. This time Obrador, ex-chief of government of Mexico City, is no longer supported by the Party of the Democratic Revolution. He is now the candidate of a coalition lead by the Movement of National Regeneration, or Morena.

His principal rival may not be from the ruling party, José Antonio Meade, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party -PRI-, but Ricardo Anaya, candidate of the Front for Mexico, an unusual coalition between the conservative PAN and the left-wing PRD.

Presented as someone outside of politics for not being a militant of PRI, Meade has against him the very low popularity of the government of Peña Nieto, for whom he served as the Secretary of Social Development and Foreign Affairs.

To his favor, he has the resources and the infrastructure of the party, that, in one way or another has won basically all of the presidential elections in Mexico since 1929, with the exception of the victories of Vicente Fox (2000) and Felipe Calderón (2006). The hope of Anaya is to capitalize on the fact that an important sector of the voting population is yearning for change. He still has in his favor the businessmen who fear the victory of Obrador, shown by his critics as a potential “Mexican Hugo Chávez”.

October: Brasil

The first round in Brazil will be October 7 and the probable second round will be on the 28 of the same month, and the first big decision of this election will be on January 24 – and it will not be for voters, but for Justice.

The judgement in the lower court of the appeal of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT), that could confirm his conviction for corruption, which would mean that the leader in the polls would not be able to participate in the elections – although appeals would be presented later – which seems to be the intention of his lawyers.

Elections with Lula as a candidate would be radically different from those without him.

The candidancy of Lula is yet to be confirmed by Justice. Photo: BBC

A return of the PT to power after so many accusations of corruption against its principle leaders seems inconceivable, but not if the popular former leader is its representative – though this can still facilitate the creation of right-wing coalitions in a panorama so far marked by fragmentation.

In this point of the political spectrum, the representative Jair Bolsonaro (PSC-RJ), appears in second place and in first place with the absence of the Lula. The governor of Sao Paolo, Geraldo Alckmin, is positioned to be the candidate of PSDB. The discontent of Brazilians with politicians of all political tendencies seems to be an opening for the rising of new names like the mayor of São Paulo, João Doria (PSDB), and the presenter Luciano Huck. However in both cases, after the grand spectacle they said they will not run.

Accusations of corruption affect not only the PT, but also the majority of the parties that supported the impeachment of Dilma Rouseff, as well as Michel Temer.

December: Venezuela?

The great unknown. President Nicolás Maduro has guaranteed that there will be presidential elections in 2018, “as the Constitution demands,” but the date has not been announced and there is no guarantee that the National Electoral Council will wait until December, as is tradition.

For different reasons, the Venezuelan electoral calendar has gone through diverse changes in the last couple of years, like what happened with the election of Maduro, in April of 2013, when the country was processing the death of Hugo Chávez and the elections looked to give more legitimacy to the man who the former president had chosen as his successor.

The opposition has gone through a difficult time and is divided, and which may cause Maduro to push the elections forward again to take advantage of this opportunity. The doubts are not limited to dates. The National Constituent Assembly determined that the parties that did not participate in the recent municipal elections can not run in the Presidential race. At the moment some judicial decisions could impede the candidacy of certain members of the opposition.

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