Only two countries in Latin America—Costa Rica and Uruguay—can be considered “full democracies,” according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study commissioned by BBC for Democracy Day on January 20. The report says that a majority of Latin American countries hold “free and fair” elections and are better ranked than their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, but democracy in the region has stagnated. The governments of Cuba and Haiti are the lowest-ranked in Latin America and are classified as authoritarian regimes.
The study assesses a total of six factors, including access to the polls, electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functionality of the government, political participation and political culture. Each country is evaluated on a scale of 0 to 10 and classified into one of four categories: full democracy, imperfect democracy, hybrid and authoritarian regime.
Nine countries (Chile, Brazil, Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, and Paraguay) are considered imperfect democracies, while six are classified as hybrids (Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). Imperfect democracies are characterized by weaknesses in governability, low levels of political participation and an undeveloped political culture. The division between “imperfect” and “hybrid” regimes isn’t clear, says London School of Economics professor Francisco Panizza, but hybrids are generally described as having substantial irregularities in elections, oppression of opposition parties and greater weakness in governance.
If there is one election campaign that usually resonates across Canada outside of a national election, it is the one held in the province of Québec (a federated state). This has been the case since the 1960s when the modern age of Québec politics and the growing impact of television converged. A strong thrust for major progressive reforms advocated by the Liberal government of the day, and the emergence of a strong nationalist fervor dominated the campaigns. The political effervescence of the day resulted in the creation of pro-Québec independence party with a social democratic agenda in 1968. It was named the Parti Québécois (PQ).
In the early 1970s the pro-independence and highly nationalist PQ became a growing force. By 1976, they formed a majority government and committed to have a referendum that would result in an independent Québec and the breaking up of Canada as we know it. Since then, the PQ has been in (1976-1985/1994-2003/2012-) and out of power but when in power, they tend to promote Québec’s political separation from a federal Canada. There have been two referenda in Quebec (1980,1995) and the pro-independence forces have lost both.
In September 2012, the PQ formed a minority government and has worked since then to win a majority by building up support. On March 5, Québec Premier Pauline Marois asked Québec’s Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the National Assembly for an election to be held on April 7. A majority would give the PQ the reins to push for Québec independence and possibly stronger advocacy of language legislation to protect the French language (Québec’s official and majority language).
With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.
Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice) so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.
However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.
Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.
Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.
Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.
The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.
A new CID Gallup poll on the Honduran presidential election in November released on Tuesday shows Xiomara Castro—the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya—has a slight lead. The poll estimates that Castro, representing the leftist Partido Libertad y Refundacion (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) would receive 29 percent of votes, followed closely by conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernández of the Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party of Honduras) at 27 percent.
The election has focused primarily on citizen security and organized crime, issues of tremendous importance to a country which currently reports the world’s highest homicide rate. Castro’s party—a leftist coalition of unions, Indigenous and agrarian groups founded by Zelaya upon his return from a post-coup exile in 2011—has advocated community policing as a means to combat crime. In contrast, Hernández has proposed the creation of a “militarized police force” that would facilitate collaboration between police and military personnel.
Marco Cáceres, a Honduran political analyst, notes that the number of registered voters has increased considerably during each election cycle in the last decade—with the highest increase taking place between 2009 and 2013—but this has not translated into an equal bump in voter turnout. This election cycle may see a higher rate of voter participation due to the creation of new parties and frustration with the continued political and security crisis. According to Cáceres, the winning candidate is unlikely to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, threatening his or her presidential legitimacy and the country’s hopes for political stability.
Not since Mexico’s transition to democracy in the late 1980s has the country witnessed the high levels of political violence that have characterized the build-up to the July 7 local elections.
Local politicians across the country have been the target of death threats, arson attacks and shootings. Although organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico and the government’s efforts to curb it have garnered recent global headlines, political violence is nothing new in the Mexican political arena. The intimidation of rival party candidates and their retinues has been a feature of the electoral process in Mexico for time immemorial. What is new is the increasingly influential role organized crime groups are playing and the potential for them to undermine the democratic process.
Organized criminal groups across the 14 states where the elections are taking place are bribing, threatening and attacking candidates, whether because they do not want them to run—presumably because they have already successfully co-opted a rival—or to intimidate them into turning a blind eye should they get elected.
Those who ignore such threats are often kidnapped or—in the worst case—killed. This was more than likely the case with Jaime Orozco, the national ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI ) candidate for the mayoral elections in the remote municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo (Chihuahua), whose body was found dumped on the side of the road on June 12. Orozco had allegedly been kidnapped by a group of armed men two days earlier.
Candidates from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from mayoral elections in droves, citing alleged death threats and a lack of guarantees of their safety. The majority have hailed from the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an important region for drug cultivation and trafficking, which spans the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.
Twenty-three years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet, on the surface at least, Chile’s democratic institutions appear strong. However, less than five months out from presidential elections, many Chileans feel more disillusioned with the political process now than at any point since the return to democracy.
In the lead up to the November 17 vote, the country will hold historic primary elections on Sunday. Accompanying them, over the last two weeks, were televised debates—the first to include candidates from the two major political coalitions.
Both the primaries and debates are being touted as a marked change from the vieja politica—“old school” politics which, for 23 years, has seen remarkably little policy difference between politicians who held positions under the dictatorship and those who took up arms against it, or in some cases were victims of its repression.
For those within the established political system and mainstream media, the changes herald a new era of inclusive politics and represent a response to the demands for profound change from social movements sweeping the country.
La Tercera—one of the country’s two largest newspapers—published an opinion piece on June 21 titled, “Primaries, an Important Political Step for Chile.”
Written by Juan Emilio Cheyre—commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, academic and member of Servicio Electoral (Electoral Service—Servel) board of directors—the article concluded:
“The primaries are important in and of themselves. However, we [Sevel] believe that, in addition, they represent a great step forward in areas as relevant as: trust, public confidence, transparency, depoliticization, autonomy and participation[…] All of these are factors have a direct impact on strengthening our democracy, a task to which, as a country, we have been called upon to undertake.”
But to read the polls, the nation’s political class has never been more distant from the general public since Chile famously voted “No” to military rule in 1989.
Yesterday, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the names of her campaign team for the upcoming presidential elections on November 17. Among them are Rodrigo Peñailillo, Bachelet’s former chief of staff that will assume the role of executive secretary; Alvaro Elizalde, who will resign as the general secretary of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and assume the role of head of communications; Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber, Bachelet’s former minister spokesperson who will be campaign team leader; Paula Walker, head of press; Alberto Arenas, Bachelet’s former budget director; and Orieta Rojas who will be head of the campaign.
The remaining members of the team will be representatives from other political parties and civil society leaders such as former student leader Karina Delfino, a pioneer in the "revolución pingüina” who will oversee youth initiatives, and Javiera Parada, a close friend to Bachelet’s daughter who will oversee culture. Rodrigo Peñailillo relied on Osvaldo Andrade Lara of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and former minister of Labor and Social Security under Bachelet’s administration, and former Senator Jaime Quintana and founder of the Partido por la Democracia (Party for Democracy – PPD) to create a short list of candidates.
In addition to establishing her political campaign staff, Bachelet will also create a "political advisory council" that will provide a space for conversation and reflection for experienced political leaders to offer their opinion leading up to the election.
Her 84 percent approval rating when she left office in 2010 suggests that she will win her party’s June primary with ease. In the succeeding election, in November, she will face a candidate from the governing centre-right Coalition, either Laurence Golborne, who as mining minister was in charge of the rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in 2010, or Andrés Allamand, a former defense minister.
La Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (Union of South American Nations—Unasur) was notably excluded from Paraguay’s list of observers for the 2013 presidential election announced by President Federico Franco on Monday. The European Union (EU), Organization of American States (OAS) and The Carter Center, all prestigious and internationally renowned organizations according to Franco, will be allowed to monitor the elections on April 21, 2013. However, he refused to comment on Unasur, which temporarily suspended Paraguay after former President Fernando Lugo was unanimously impeached in January.
Monday’s announcement comes one month after President Franco denounced Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur during his remarks at the United Nation General Assembly. Despite the fact that much of the international community viewed President Fernando Lugo’s ouster as a coup d’état, President Franco has consistently defended the nearly unanimous congressional impeachment process that took place last January. Former President Lugo was voted out of office by the opposition-controlled senate for his ties to officers responsible for the June 15 massacre at Curuguatay in which 17 peasants were killed by police who were attempting to evict them from private property near the Brazilian border.
President Franco, who is not allowed to run in next year’s election, has emphasized that the participation of the EU, OAS, and The Carter Center will ensure a transparent election.
The 2012 electoral process is the most uninspiring we’ve seen in recent history. Therefore it’s no surprise that Mexican society is increasingly disenfranchised with the political system. In fact, trust in the political elite is at an all-time low. Where interest groups saw possibilities of working hand in hand with the government in 2000 and 2006, the division between those governing and those being governed grows day by day.
The age group most alien to the electoral process this year will be young adults. A recent UNDP-sponsored study carried out by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) posits that 7 out of every 10 voters ages 18-29 will not turn out to vote due to “disenchantment with Mexican democracy.” Enrique Cuna Pérez, the head of the sociology department at the UAM, points out that Mexican adolescents do believe in democracy but not in the way it is implemented in the country. “Young people are not shying away from democracy as a system, they are shying away from Mexican democracy. They consider themselves as democratic people. They understand the importance of voting but they are not willing to participate in Mexican democracy as it stands today,” says Cuna.
There are many reasons for this. For one, people are finding it harder to believe in and rally for the different candidates. The turn that political campaigns have taken—toward destructive criticism, finger-pointing and whining—is far from inspiring. Since the actual political platforms and proposals show nothing new, candidates are focusing on projecting their persona, trying to get people to believe in them, but they are doing it by saying “you can’t believe in the other candidates” as opposed to showing the country why they are fit to lead.
Ruling People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) candidate Donald Ramotar yesterday claimed victory in Monday’s presidential elections in Guyana, after the national Election Commission announced the he had captured 49 percent of the vote. Ramotar, who ran under the campaign slogan "Let Progress Continue," promised to maintain social policies and infrastructure development projects that he said were a staple of his predecessor Bharrat Jagdeo’s administration.
Tensions had risen in Guyana over the course of the week due to the delay in announcing the results from Monday’s election.
Opposition candidate David Granger’s coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), won 41 percent of the vote to help seize an opposition-controlled parliamentary majority for the first time in 19 years. Race plays a heavy roll in Guyanese politics. The PPP/C—in power since 1992—is widely supported by the country’s ethnic majority of Indian descent, while the APNU—a coalition of the People’s National Congress (PNC) and other smaller parties—is dominated by Afro-Guyanese.
Outgoing President Jagdeo has been praised by supporters for his pro-business positions and his leadership in helping Guyana overcome severe economic hardship in the 1980s. Opposition parties and the country’s Afro-descendants, however, accuse the government of racial discrimination, close ties with drug traffickers and ignoring the country’s high crime rates.
President-elect Ramotar will be sworn into office on Saturday.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.