The electoral panorama in 2023 is a weak indicator to take the political pulse of Latin America if we consider that only four countries in the region held presidential elections: Paraguay, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Argentina. Although geography makes it possible to conceive them as a representative sample, it seems clear that due to their demographics and the weight of their economies, they cannot draw indicative headlines that can be generalized to the rest of the continent.
The results of the elections showed victories of candidates with clear margins of success over the latter. Except in Paraguay, the relations between the Executive and the Legislature suggest a very complicated panorama of confrontation and little collaboration. Moreover, the governments will be led by presidents (all men) with very little political experience and small parties with little experience. On the other hand, the opposition alternation occurred in three of the four countries (the exception is also Paraguay), which is already common in the case of Guatemala since it has always occurred in the past forty years. Finally, the ideological orientation of the winners is dispersed, since it covers a good part of the programmatic spectrum.
Concerning the development of these elections, there are three notes shared in the four cases: the maintenance of traditional patterns of electoral participation, the disorientation of pollsters when making their forecasts, and the activism in social networks. On the other hand, Ecuador has registered the greatest presence of violence in the process with the assassination of candidates, and Guatemala, where the political turnaround was greater due to the triumph of a political option, the Seed Movement. This Movement defends postulates contrary to the conservative and oligarchic tradition of the last decades and contemplates how the process has been judicialized, while it is still up in the air that the winning candidate, Bernardo Arévalo, will assume the presidency in January.
In regional terms, the tendency toward fragmentation has increased, making the existence of a single voice with which Latin American countries can have an international dialogue even more difficult. The Puebla Group, which includes the so-called progressive governments, has lost Argentina as a valuable partner. The gradual bias toward China in terms of investments and foreign trade may also be slowed down by the possible contrary position adopted by the new Argentine government.
However, what has happened with other electoral processes — notably at the Colombian municipal level and regarding the Chilean constitutional plebiscite—, with the precedents of 2002 and with the projections of the 2024 cycle of elections, allows us to reconsider four issues that define a profile of political behavior that seems to be consolidating.
In the first place, the presence of leaders with extremely diverse backgrounds, but endowed with the institutional impulse provided by presidentialism, has as a time-critical matter of first magnitude the construction and consolidation of a social base that allows the sustainability of the political project underway. This takes place in a scenario of liquid societies where the articulation of the collective purpose is very complex. The 55.7% of the Argentine electorate that has supported Javier Milei is a contingent devoid of any common identity, as is the case in most Latin American countries. However, their sympathy toward the cause for which they once voted requires continuity to not enter immediately into the channel of disillusionment that contributes so quickly to political disaffection, accelerating the fatigued democracy. The Mexican phenomenon behind Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the opposite exceptional case.
Secondly, the aforementioned background with which Latin American presidents and Honduran President Xiomara Castro move is increasingly nurtured by figures marked by a profound individualism and mostly alien to any party tradition. Moreover, their lack of knowledge of practical politics is common. Lacking previous experience, they are catapulted in their trade by professional advisors who not only control the art of writing speeches and guiding the main communicational strategies of the electoral campaign, but are now masters in the use of artificial intelligence mechanisms and in the management of social networks, which are the main means of building a political career. A process created on feet of clay that requires for the success in its continuity the satisfaction of the previous point.
Thirdly, the so-called ideological front, or if you prefer programmatic, is blurred because the old patterns articulated in the left-right axis are out of shape. If many times the location of Latin American politics in that axis was complicated, today it is even more so. Different issues contribute to its entanglement: the flourishing of multiple overlapping identities and the confusing international panorama with an overwhelming logic of friend-enemy relations articulated on different fronts configure a map in which it is very difficult to situate oneself and in which, consequently, confusion takes possession of the actors.
However, this does not mean that polarization is not present. Still, its trace is produced thanks to the combination of three unbearably recurrent factors: the zero-sum game imposed by presidentialism around the personalization of elections where individual candidacies are the preponderant factor; the articulation of electoral campaigns by consulting professionals who exacerbate the most relevant emotional differential aspects to make them the central axis of politics; and the existence of more disjointed, distrustful and alienated societies before a politics that shows its dark side of corruption and its inability to address the most urgent and immediate problems of the people.
*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish