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2024: Polarization, Democracy and Elections

The year 2024 will be a defining year for democracy in the region. Six countries in the Americas will hold presidential elections, while three will hold municipal elections that could define the future of the ideological map. El Salvador, Panama, Dominican Republic, Peru, Mexico and Uruguay will choose a new president and will be responsible for shaping the political trend in Latin America.

To begin with, this January 14, Bernardo Arévalo took office as Guatemala’s new president. During 2023, the country witnessed the erosion of its democracy and the attempt to prevent Arévalo from assuming the presidency.

On February 4, Nayib Bukele will seek reelection. It is, however, a formality, since 2019 he has dedicated himself to align the powers of the republic with his government, confident in the high popularity ratings he maintains. Nevertheless, the elimination of party financing, the reduction of the National Assembly and the iron fist policy mean that El Salvador may transit in the future towards an autocracy. On the same day, Costa Rica will hold municipal elections, which will be decisive not only for the administration of Rodrigo Chaves but also for the ideological center of the region.

The political center has been replaced by the right and the left.

Since 2015 we have witnessed how the political center is substituted by the right or the left and its radical slopes. The municipal elections will be an x-ray of the current centrist government and, depending on the results, some prospects could be made. Also in the subcontinent, Panama will go to the polls on May 5 to renew the presidency, the congress, and some other positions.

Panama is coming from long protests since the government of Laurentino Corzo was seeking to concession some mines near the Panama Canal. This aroused the annoyance of the citizens, who took to the streets to protest. Even though the project did not materialize, voters do not forget and will probably remember this when they go to the polls.

In the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic will hold general elections on May 19. The country is one of the few bastions of the political center that will also be tested. Although Luis Abinader’s government has not been embroiled in scandals, it has been the target of criticism for its tense relationship with Haiti. Yet, these tensions date back to when dictators François Duvalier and Rafael Leónidas Trujillo ruled their respective countries.

Finally, on June 2, Mexico will hold general elections, in which the presidency, the Chamber of Deputies, the Senate and 9 governorships will be renewed, and in the 32 states there will be local elections. These elections will be the largest in history. They will be marked, though, by polarization, institutional erosion and López Obrador’s agenda to eliminate counterweights such as the Autonomous Bodies and the initiative to elect ministers, magistrates, and judges by popular vote.

Mexico was one of the first countries that turned to the left in 2018 and generated hope in the citizenry. Nonetheless, with the passing of the López Obrador administration, it has been found that its project is sustained by the competitive authoritarianism and revolutionary nationalism of the PRI.

Two keys to 2024

Thus, the first half of 2024 will be marked by two key factors. First, elections will define the direction of the center in the region; citizens have opted for the ideological poles, which shows that a reconstruction of the center is needed. Secondly, the direction of democracy in countries such as El Salvador, Peru and Mexico, which are currently classified as hybrid regimes in the IDEA and V-Dem reports.

For the second semester, the electoral super-cycle will begin in October because it is the month in which most elections are concentrated. On October 21, Chile will go to the polls to elect municipal and regional positions, which will be an x-ray of Gabriel Boric’s government, but also of the left and the right that in 2022 and 2023 suffered setbacks after the citizens rejected the two projects of the Magna Carta.

On October 27, Uruguay will hold general elections. This country is the only full democracy in the region. It is one of the few nations that has not swung to the left, but has been going through one of the biggest political scandals. Luis Lacalle Pou’s government gave a passport to a drug trafficker, which triggered several resignations from the presidential cabinet. In case no candidate obtains more than 50+1 of the votes, a run-off election will be held on November 24.

On Tuesday, November 5, the United States will hold one of the most polarized elections in its history. On the Democratic side, President Joe Biden will seek reelection, while on the Republican side, former President Donald Trump is the favorite to run for the White House. Both will have to win their parties’ primaries between February and August. Both are under investigation: Trump for hiding documents at his Mar-A-Lago home and for the 2020 Capitol Hill takeover, while Joe Biden faces accusations that his family benefited from irregular business dealings.

Even though there is no precise date, Venezuela will hold presidential elections. The strongest candidates are Nicolás Maduro, who has been in power for 12 years, championing Chavism and the Bolivarian Revolution, and, on the opposition side, Maria Corina Machado, the candidate who seeks to remove the ruling party from the Miraflores Palace and restore democracy in the country.

Finally, Bolivia could join the electoral calendar, since, due to problems with candidacies and deadlines, judicial elections could not be held in 2023 and the country is awaiting a ruling from the Constitutional Court to be able to hold them. Let’s remember that this country is the only one that elects the Judicial Power through popular vote after then-president Evo Morales reformed the Magna Carta in 2009.

As we can see, the continent will be full of elections that will define the course of ideologies and democracy. Some countries will have to choose between new and old options, while others will have to choose between authoritarian restoration or democracy. The only certainty is that 2024 has begun, and we will have many challenges ahead.

*Translated by Micaela Machado Rodrigues from the original in Spanish.


Otros artículos del autor

Cientista Político. Graduado en la Universidad Nacional Autônoma de México (UNAM). Diplomado en periodismo por la Escuela de Periodismo Carlos Septién.


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