What happened to the “pink tide”? The results of the main electoral processes held in Latin America during 2023 seem to reinforce a predominant trend during this century, which usually grants victory to the opposition. What some analysts interpret essentially as a sign of instability, for others represents the alternation characteristic of certain democratic consolidation, despite multiple obstacles democracy continues to face in the region. In any case, it is necessary to examine the specific situation of each country separately.
Liberals and conservatives
Argentina is always surprising in politics, both for factors that inexplicably remain constant and for those that seem to burst out of nowhere. The controversial libertarian Javier Milei finally completed his unusual rise to the presidency. He reached it thanks to a groundbreaking discourse and without the initial backing of a strong party organization. He disputed the niche of the liberal opposition to his now partners in the coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change).
It is worth adding the result of the legislative and provincial elections, in which the liberals obtained broad political support that will possibly allow them to initiate the reform of the policies that have brought Argentina to the brink of hyperinflation.
Paraguay, on the other hand, is the exception that confirms the rule of alternation that has prevailed in the region’s presidential elections for more than a decade. The hegemony of the conservative Colorado Party was reaffirmed. Not only did the ruling party’s candidate, economist and former Finance Minister Santiago Peña, win the presidency, but the Colorado Party also won a majority in the Senate and 14 of the 17 governorships.
On the other hand, in Chile, the long and controversial constituent process initiated in December 2019 continues. A convention, now with the predominance of the conservative Republican Party of José Antonio Kast, elaborated a new proposal, and the text was submitted to a plebiscite on December 17, with a paradoxical result: the same electorate that approved a change in the constitution rejected the final draft.
No Red October
Ecuador experienced an intense electoral year. It began in February with a plebiscite on eight constitutional issues and the election of 5,660 local authorities, resulting in the defeat of the position supported by President Guillermo Lasso, overwhelmed by the left-wing opposition and the advance of drug cartels. In May, Lasso activated the constitutional mechanism called mutual death. He thus called for presidential elections for August 20, shaken by the murder of candidate Fernando Villavicencio, a critic of Correism and drug cartels. The winner was Daniel Noboa, a 35-year-old businessman, son of several times presidential candidate Alvaro Noboa.
The following week, on October 22, the liberal candidate María Corina Machado won resoundingly in the Venezuelan opposition primaries. She obtained 93% of the votes counted. In a process that was conducted against all odds, organized by civil society and evading the obstacles of Nicolás Maduro’s autocratic regime, more than 2.5 million voters mobilized inside and outside Venezuela to cast and count their votes manually. With this gesture of civic defiance, Venezuelans have charted a path to face the complex 2024 presidential elections.
On October 29, regional elections took place in Colombia. The breakup of the front that consolidated in power the controversial president Gustavo Petro fueled the already remarkable fragmentation of the Colombian political system. This caused up to 35 parties to participate in the elections. The ruling party won in 9 of the 32 departments, and only three of its winning candidates belonged to the Historic Pact. On the other hand, Petro’s candidates were defeated in the main mayoralties, including Bogotá. This shows the loss of popular support in its first year of government.
Mexico and Guatemala
Elections were held in June in two Mexican states. While in the northern State of Coahuila the PRI managed to retain the governorship, in the State of Mexico, the most populated in the country, the candidate of MORENA, Delfina Gómez, put an end to almost a century of PRI hegemony. On the other hand, the primaries of the ruling party consecrated the former head of government of the capital, Claudia Sheinbaum, as MORENA’s standard-bearer for the 2024 presidential elections. The opposition Broad Front, which brings together PAN, PRI, and PRD, will have Senator Xóchitl Gálvez as its candidate.
In Guatemala, the victory of the social democrat Bernardo Arévalo in the presidential elections has been accompanied by all kinds of obstacles. His party, Semilla Movement, has been accused of fraud, irregularities, and of registering with false signatures. The Public Prosecutor’s Office suspended its legal personality. Meanwhile, the country remains in turmoil due to continuous popular protests. The Permanent Council of the OAS expressed, in its resolution of last November 15, its concern about the “excessive judicialization of the electoral process”.
In summary, while in South America there is a general advance of the center-right, in Mexico and Central America the left is resisting or advancing. Although in most cases there has been a democratic change of governments, the Guatemalan case is worrying because of the judicial obstacles. And, in Venezuela, the democratic forces are engaged in a civic struggle that still awaits an important outcome in 2024.
*Text originally published in Diálogo Político.
Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.