Recently, famous political scientist Adam Przeworski said that what he likes most about elections is that they put in place mechanisms that “allow political conflicts to be dealt with in peace and freedom”.
He will then take advantage of the series of elections expected by Latin Americans in 2021: five presidential elections – Peru, Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and the second round in Ecuador -, at least four subnational elections – Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile and Mexico -, two legislative elections – Mexico and Argentina – and constituent election in Chile.
Elections against the wind and the pandemic and for all tastes. And all in a context of multidimensional crisis: political, economic and health.
Uneasiness in a democracy
Latin American academic Manuel Alcántara considers Latin American democracy “tired”.
The mood of the citizens of the continent reveals an irritation of the political parties and a general lack of confidence in the political institutions.
The cocktail includes dissatisfaction with the neoliberal model of society, resistance to accepting the government’s adjustment measures and fatigue with the corruption of political leaders.
There are many examples in the region to describe this social (bad) mood. The protest carousel in the countries of the South American Pacific, from October 2019 to November 2020, is one example. Although the most important cases are those of Chile, Ecuador and Peru, they are not the only ones.
During this same period, there were mobilizations in all the countries where elections will be held this year: El Salvador, Bolivia, Mexico, Paraguay, Argentina, Nicaragua and Honduras.
The revolts are a sign of a growing crisis in regional governance which is staggering.
What are popular uprisings if not signs of political instability? And these signs are present in most democracies, whether they are semi-formed or consolidated.
In any case, it is not surprising that these signs appear in the first, but that they appear in the second, as in the case of Chile. There, faced with the social explosion, President Piñera came out to proclaim to the four winds: “We are at war with a powerful enemy”.
Now, in this sea of anti-political mobilizations, the confrontation of ideas and programmatic proposals has sunk. Public debate has been reduced to polarized positions within the electorate.
In the case of Ecuador, the second round will be resolved between corristas and anti-corristas, and during the legislative elections in El Salvador, the main confrontation took place between the bukelistas and the antibukelistas.
In other countries where electoral processes are imminent, from Mexico to Argentina, the same pattern is repeated.
In short, half of the continent will elect its representatives in a political context marked by polarization and personalism, and with “let everyone out” echoing in the streets. The weaving will be woven with threads of skepticism and uncertainty.
When did our continent get complicated?
The second dimension of the regional crisis – and no less shocking – is the economic dimension.
In the campaign for the first electoral round in Ecuador, job creation and social assistance for families affected by the pandemic were the central proposals of the corrísmo candidate, Andrés Arauz.
In El Salvador, the elections were a key moment for President Bukele’s anti-crisis plans.
Considering that around 45% of regional GDP depends on foreign trade in goods and services, the fall in the price of hydrocarbons has strongly affected countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
In turn, Chile and Peru have been affected by the drop in the price of minerals that constitute their main exports (copper, lithium and iodine), while Argentina and Paraguay have suffered from the contraction of prices in the export and volumes of agricultural products.
Latin American countries ended 2020 against a backdrop of regret and unrest: fiscal problems and rising unemployment, informality – which already affects half of workers, which could continue to worsen – and poverty.
The regional GDP contraction was 7.7% and forecasts for the years 2021 and 2022 call for a modest recovery of 3.7% and 2.6%, respectively. The social gains of the past two decades have ceased, and the possibility of a repeat of another lost decade is dangerously near.
Vote during a pandemic
In the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Latin America passed 20 million people infected and 600,000 deaths, revealing the inadequacies of the public health system.
How will the health crisis affect the next elections? In three ways.
On the one hand, the pandemic will influence citizen participation. The campaigns will be developed through digital social networks and it is expected that young people in urban areas, who enter politics largely through digitization, will be the most active and numerous protagonists.
On the other hand, the health emergency will affect the conduct of the research, and the prognosis may be less certain than normal, which could lead to a crisis in the reliability of the research.
Finally, vaccination campaigns have started and will probably not be excluded from electoral debates.
From the timing and the beneficiaries behind the vaccines, they will form a big bone of contention, where some will present themselves as responsible parents to innocent citizens and others as saviors of the homeland with their courts of officials and health advisers. .
So far, economic and governance crises have dominated the debate.
Poor health management will not necessarily mean the loss of elections. But as this second year of the pandemic unfolds, the health dimension of the crisis can become a determining factor in different countries. Everything will depend on equal access to vaccination.
Translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima