Latin America – The year of the ballot

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. As Isabel Hilton asks: What does 2006 have in store? (Part one)
Roberto Espíndola
22 December 2005

2006 will be a year of elections in Latin America and the Caribbean: Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guyana, Nicaragua and Peru elect new presidents and parliaments. Chile (second round), Haiti and Venezuela also elect presidents and five Caribbean and Central American states will hold parliamentary polls.

It’s not the numbers that makes this record convergence of elections significant, but the progress towards democratisation. Marginalised sectors have emerged in politics previously controlled by a largely male, white elite. Michelle Bachelet seems likely to become the first female president of Chile, for the centre-left coalitionConcertación, whose alternative candidate was also a woman, the Christian Democrat Soledad Alvear, who won a senate seat in December with the largest parliamentary vote.

In Peru’s April elections, women are also taking the lead. Christian Democratic candidate Lourdes Flores is well ahead in the polls, but others include Jeanette Enmanuel of the ruling Perú Posible and Keiko Sofía Fujimori leading the Alianza por el Futuro formed by followers of her father, former president Alberto Fujimori, under arrest in Chile awaiting an extradition ruling.

Evo Morales’s election in Bolivia represents ethnic groups until now absent from politics. That tendency will continue in 2006. In Peru a former army officer, Ollanta Humala, is second amongst presidential candidates. His Partido Nacionalista Peruano (PNP) has close connections with etnocacerismo, which claims to represent those of Amerindian descent, combined with a belief in the leadership of strong men. Both Morales and Humala are inspired by Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez, but the authoritarian aspects of etnocacerismo distnguish it from the leftwing Morales and Chávez.

Another sign of democratisation will be greater electoral uncertainty. A key component of democracy, uncertainty, has been absent recently in Mexico where electoral results were preordained, or in Chile, where the Pinochet legacy prevented the right from being a credible alternative. Now, Michelle Bachelet is fighting for every vote in the second round with right-wing candidate Sebastián Piñera. Democratic uncertainty, too, in the Mexican presidentials of 2 July, where third-force candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, of the left-wing Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) is well ahead. The two traditional parties, centre-leftPartido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) fight for second place.

Even Haiti, with thirty-five presidential candidates for the 8 January poll (and a second round on 15 February), confirms the uncertainty trend. In Brazil, President Lula teases his supporters with re-election in November, but is likely to be deterred by the lead held by economist José Serra, Sao Paulo mayor and candidate ofPartido da Social Democracia Brasileira.

Elsewhere results are predictable. In stable Costa Rica, such third forces as Partido Acción Ciudadana and Movimiento Libertario are not a real challenge and on 5 February Oscar Arias is the likely winner, although his Partido Liberación Nacionaland the centre-right Partido Unidad Social Cristiana could lose their duopolistic control over congress. In Colombia and Venezuela, incumbents far-right Álvaro Uribe and left-wing Hugo Chávez are set to win re-election with ease.

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