In November 2021 alone, Latin America will have five electoral processes, in contexts that differ greatly from each other. Nicaragua will hold general elections, Argentina mid-term legislative, Chile general, Venezuela regional/municipal and Honduras general.
Two of these elections, the Nicaraguan and the Venezuelan, are processes with much criticism from several international institutions.
In this way, this electoral agenda will have the opportunity to bring about a renewal in some countries, while in others we must witness a ratification of the existing regime.
Latin America is today a landing strip for several investment projects by undemocratic powers – China and Russia in the vanguard – that have made this neighborhood one of their expansion priorities; therefore, a careful look at electoral processes in the region is relevant from the point of view of strengthening democracies, political parties and plural coexistence.
Nicaragua (general): Sunday, November 7th
On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans were called to vote in heavily criticized elections. Voters had to vote for 92 national deputies, 70 of them for the Nicaraguan National Assembly and 20 for the Central American Parliament.
It is an election (or rather a vote) of ratification, not renewal of government. The possibility of alternating power is not present because the opposition was banned by successive arrests of candidates, ordered from the office of President Daniel Ortega.
Likewise, the Supreme Electoral Council withdrew the legal status of several opposition parties.
Argentina (legislative): Sunday, November 14
After last September’s Open, Simultaneous and Mandatory (PASO) primaries – in which the government of Peronist Alberto Fernández and his Frente de Todos coalition suffered a notable defeat in most districts, and the opposition coalition Together for the Exchange had a major boost of votes – the government had to face several crises, with the resignation of ministers and strong divergences within Peronism.
After a cabinet reshuffle and a relaunch of the government administration, the outlook is uncertain and not very encouraging for the government. Presidential approval has not improved and criticism is rife, such as those referring to difficulties in accessing public information.
Argentina is going through a delicate socioeconomic climate: 50% of its population lives in poverty and there is little expectation of an economic recovery on the horizon. This legislative election, like any midterm test, will be decisive for the future of Fernández’s government and the opposition.
Chile (general): Sunday, November 21
In these general elections, Chile will elect a new president, 155 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 27 of the 50 senators. The election will be held in a rarefied political climate. The unrest during the protests that marked the second anniversary of the social upheaval, last October 18, showed that the ghosts of violence have not completely disappeared from the streets.
According to polls, this scenario seems to favor the candidacy of right-wing José Antonio Kast, which many considered too extreme to have a chance of winning the elections.
Everything indicates that his opponent in the second round in December will be the leftist Gabriel Boric, whose candidacy brings together many of the social movements behind the social unrest and whose electoral coalition includes far-left forces that run counter to the conciliatory image cultivated by the young candidate.
The polarization between Boric and Kast has left candidates from the traditional blocs, the ex-Concertación and the ex-Alianza por Chile, the Christian Democrat Yasna Provoste and the independent Sebastián Sichel, both far behind Kast and Boric at the polls, in the way.
The Chilean election gains special relevance in the context of the Constitutional Convention, dominated by leftist forces, which is in the process of drafting a new constitution. The new Congress will have to coexist with this Convention and this can bring institutional uncertainties.
Venezuela (regional and municipal): Sunday, November 21
A few months ago, the opposition to the Nicolás Maduro regime and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), gathered in the Democratic Unity coalition, decided to participate in these elections. This took place after a renewal of the authorities of the National Electoral Council, in which two (out of five) rectors not aligned with the ruling party were incorporated.
The entry of opposition leaders into the electoral arena increased the number of political options and stimulated mobilization in regions and municipalities.
However, the 24 governments and 335 prefectures at stake, of which the opposition currently holds 4 and 30 respectively, have very little capacity for autonomous government management, having been emptied of powers and resources during the 22 years of the Chavista regime. Thus, the fight in this election is not for local spaces, but to gain ground against the PSUV.
Honduras (general): Sunday, November 28
Honduran democracy has the test of renewing its political authority in a general election that includes the president, the entire Congress (128 deputies), the country’s 20 representatives in the Central American Parliament, and 298 mayors and vice mayors.
The presidential battle will be between pro-government Nasry Asfura and Xiomara Castro, wife of leftist former president Manuel Zelaya.
The most important challenge will be to achieve general recognition of the results, given weak electoral institutions and the growing discredit of political activity. This slogan has been echoed by representatives of multilateral organizations in the country, such as the head of the European Union Election Observation Mission, who called for respect for the results in a tense political climate.
Elections in non-democratic regimes and external attention
Although there is still a long way to go in the construction and consolidation of many Latin American democracies, the current situation deserves a reflection on the hegemonic authoritarian regimes that call for a vote – not an election – to ratify their existence and show some facade of democracy, albeit in a context of total cooptation of institutions.
The West’s reaction to these electoral events will be particularly important. China and Russia, which have no interest in democratic elections but have interests in the region, will also be watching, not only for these two results, but also for the results of the five elections. The truth is that it is not just Latin America that will be attentive to the lessons that the electoral November will leave.
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