The results of the last three presidential elections held in Latin America—Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay—and the local elections in Colombia, do not reflect a tendency of an ideological vote towards the center, the right or the left, but a “punishment vote” towards the ruling parties.
This is the conclusion of Argentinian political analyst, Daniel Zovatto, regional director for Latin America of IDEA, the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, in the interview he gave to the “Esta Noche” television program.
Zovatto warns that there is a “democratic fatigue,” in the midst of an “anemic” economic growth that is reflected in “a socio-economic deficit and a deficit of a representation crisis,” and “a great intensity at the polls to look for new options that connect with the citizenry; but we are also seeing an intense activity in the streets.”
However, four countries clearly distance themselves from that trend: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras and now Bolivia, in which the political crisis coincides with a collapse of democratic electoral systems, under dictatorial authoritarian regimes.
In the results of the last three presidential elections: Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and also the local elections that were held in Colombia, is there a tendency of the political pendulum in Latin America?
Daniel Zovatto : The tendency is a punishment vote against the ruling parties, rather than an ideological vote for the center, right or left.
Between 2017, 2018 and 2019, we have held fifteen elections (in Latin America), in the great majority, the official party lost, be it from the right or from the left, where it did not lose there are many problems related to the issue of fraud, as in the case of Bolivia. In Argentina it clearly lost; and in Uruguay, although the “Frente Amplio” won, which is the official party, it did it in a way well below how they were accustomed to winning, which evidences a decline of support at the presidential level. Even if it wins in the second round [November 24th], it will not have a majority in either of the two houses of Congress, as it has enjoyed until now. In the case of Colombia, although it is a local and not presidential election, we have also seen a punishment vote against the ruling party. That is the main trend we can identify in all these elections.
Evo’s original sin in Bolivia
In Bolivia, fraud allegations have as a background the results of the 2016 referendum on presidential reelection that were not recognized by President Evo Morales. Are there concrete evidences about this fraud allegations?
DZ: This election, the fourth consecutive period that Evo Morales is seeking to continue in the presidency from 2020 to 2025 already came with an original sin. Evo had wanted to be nominated again, he had been told—you cannot because the Constitution forbids it–, the same Constitution that he had approved. So, he makes a referendum for citizens to say whether he can seek a four term or not.
He loses that referendum, and, despite that, he then seeks an interpretation from the Constitutional Court. Something that he must have learned, among other countries, from Nicaragua, from Ortega, in which the Constitutional Court, which is under his influence, tells him: indeed, you can seek a new nomination. Because, to prohibit you from seeking a reelection, would violate your human rights and violate Article 23 of the American Charter. A legal nonsense from any point of view, but that allows Evo to seek this fourth mandate.
I have no evidence, because I have not been to Bolivia, but I have read in detail the report of the OAS electoral observation mission, in which it denounces serious irregularities. At the same time, it recommends that to avoid reaching a situation of extreme conflict, a second electoral round be held. Evo ignores this recommendation, accuses the OAS of committing interference in its internal affairs, saying that the opposition wants to do a coup d’état. The opposition, led by Carlos Mesa, says: no, Evo should not have been a candidate because he lost the referendum, but in this election clearly Evo did not win. There was fraud here, and what we are asking is that there be a second round.
In this situation of maximum tension, where violence is beginning to overflow, is where Bolivia is at the moment. And I see this with great concern, because I believe that Evo is going to press more than what he is already doing, pushed and supported by social groups, by governments such as that of Cuba, that of Venezuela, etc., to stay no matter what. On the other hand, Mesa and the opposition will continue to protest and force the possibility of a second round. Mesa just declared, either I go to jail or I go to the presidency. In this moment of maximum tension, with increasing violence, is where Bolivia is currently at.
There is a political gamble by both parties, from the streets, to tip the balance. There is a demand for a binding electoral audit; and a second-round demand, while Evo Morales insists that the results have already been given. What lessons can be drawn from this crisis, of Bolivia, to other countries?
Between 1978 and 2019 there have been many electoral crises, and many degenerated in political crises, but only in three cases did the electoral crisis generate a political crisis of sufficient intensity as to alter the results: one, the Panama crisis in 1989, in which it ended with a US invasion; two, the crisis of fraud by Balaguer (Dominican Republic) in 1994, which ended with a mediation of former President Carter, of the OAS, in which Balaguer’s victory was accepted, despite the fraud that he clearly had committed, but instead of four years, his presidency lasted two, and the re-election was abolished. And, the third was Fujimori’s re-election in 2000, in which he triggered a political crisis that was further aggravated by the Montesino videos, which led to Fujimori’s dismissal in November of that same year, 2000.
In all the other cases where there has been an electoral crisis, allegations of fraud: Honduras, more recently; Venezuela, more recently; serious irregularities in Nicaragua, despite that, who won the reelection, even with all the frauds and irregularities, even with all the complaints and international pressures, screwed himself to the chair and continues there.
What lessons do we get? That it is very difficult to alter or change an outcome, despite the fact that there is very concrete evidence of fraud, because we do not have the instruments, at the regional level, or enough political pressure to force these changes.
Economic crisis and Peronism and in Argentina
In Argentina, there is no electoral crisis, but the country is divided. There is also a serious economic crisis and many questions regarding the leadership of Alberto Fernandez, who has former president Cristina Kirchner as Vice President. Did Kirchnerism or Peronism win in Argentina?
I believe that Peronism won and within Peronism and within the new coalition of power that will emerge from December 10, led by Alberto Fernandez, there is a very important sector of Kirchnerism, of “La Campora” (a Peronist and Kircherian political organization).
Alberto Fernandez achieved a very important victory on Sunday 27, winning by more than two million votes and won in the first round. So it is an unquestionable victory. Obviously, he did not win with the 20% difference that was talked about, he won by 8 percent, but it is still an important difference.
Macri lost, but he did not lose as humiliatingly as it was thought he was going to lose, but he had a dignified defeat with forty percent that leaves him, and the future opposition, in a very good condition to find a balance of power.
The good news in Argentina is that at this moment there is no political crisis, on the contrary, we have seen an election that, despite all the high polarization, volatility, uncertainty, it flowed very well with 81 percent of electoral participation, without major complaints, and with an unprecedented element in Argentinian political history. For the first time the president in office, who lost the election, and the president-elect, without having elapsed 24 hours after the closing of that election, were already having breakfast together in order to agree on making a transition as orderly and responsible as possible. This, because what does exist is a deep economic crisis, with a very high level of uncertainty.
Who will govern? That is the big question many analysts ask themselves. On the same Sunday night Cristina marked Macri’s field and marked Alberto Fenandez’s field. And 48 hours later, at a very important meeting held in Tucuman with many of the Peronist governors, Alberto Fernandez returned the message, and he told the media who is going to govern in Argentina. The one who is going to govern is this president with the governors, because what I want to do is to is a government based on federalism. So, we are going to see certain struggle, but Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Fernandez Kichner are condemned to get along very well. If they do not get along both will lose a lot; if they get along and find some kind of accommodation, they both clearly win and the country wins.
The wear and tear of the “Frente Amplio” in Uruguay
In Uruguay the Frente Amplio—the center-left coalition—won, however, not with sufficient support to get the presidency in the first round. And, in the second round it seems that the favorite is Luis Lacalle Pou, of the National Party, which together with the votes of other parties could surpass the Frente Amplio. What do these political projections mean in Uruguay?
As I said, it’s a punishment vote, because in Uruguay the Frente Amplio has been in power for fifteen years, three governments in a row: first with Tabaré Vásquez, second with Pepe Mujica, third with Tabaré Vasquez. The Frente Amplio came to these (elections) very worn out, and got less than forty percent, 38 and something, and received ten points over Luis Lacalle Pou, of the Partido Blanco (White Party), but not enough to avoid a second round.
On the other hand, in the parliamentary election the Parliament that emerges will be the most fragmented Parliament that Uruguay will have throughout its history. What will happen on November 24? I think Luis Lacalle Pou starts as a favorite because of the support he already has, the candidate that ended up in the third place, Ernesto Talvi, of the Partido Colorado, and the one that ended up in the fourth place, Cabildo Abierto, a new political force led by former general Guido Manini Rios, have already expressed that they will support him.
So, Luis Lacalle Pou is the favorite to win in the second round. Note: There is nothing already resolved. It is an election with the field wide open, but there is a possibility that, while Uruguay moves from center-left to center-right, Argentina begins to move from center-right to center-left.
The defeat of Uribe supporters in Colombia
In Colombia, although it was not a presidential election, there was a local election of great importance. The “Centro Democrático” (Democratic Center), the party of former President Uribe, lost the Mayor’s Office of Bogota and Medellin, against political leaders that represent, either independent options or such as Claudia Lopez (in Bogotá) a progressive option, completely different from the pro-Chavista left. What does this mean for Colombia?
This is also another example of this trend of ruling parties receiving this punishment vote. We are in this electoral super cycle that is about to end with these fifteen elections, and we are in new moment in Latin America. Look, there has been a series of phenomena that together are generating a very complex context to govern. You have an anemic regional economic average growth. This year the region, at best, will have a dissapointing average growth of 0.2. We have a deep discomfort with politics and traditional elites and you see an accelerated wear down of governments.
Look at Pinera here in Chile, he has 19 months (in office) and his popularity is fourteen percent. Most presidents, with very few exceptions, such as Bukele in El Salvador or Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico, are with approval levels between fourteen, fifteen or twenty-five or thirty percent. In most cases, in the context of divided governments they do not have majorities in congress to govern. Very tense societies are demanding to improve their living conditions, for better public services. At the same time, the levels of corruption, of citizens’ insecurity and homicides continue to rise. There is a democratic fatigue that is characterized by a constant fall in support for democracy and an increase of dissatisfaction.
In this context of extreme polarization, of much volatility, of democratic fatigue, of discontent with politics, what we are seeing is a great intensity at the polls to seek new options that can finally connect with citizens. However, we are also seeing an intense activity in the streets, because two very important deficits have been combined, there is a socio-economic deficit and there is a crisis of representation.
Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras
There are three countries, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua, where the electoral solutions are blocked, where there is a political crisis and also a crisis of the electoral system that is collapsed and controlled by authoritarian governments, does this break the trend of the rest of Latin America?
Absolutely. I would add, Honduras, because the current president has also come as a result of an election flawed with irregularities.
Reelection until recently allowed presidents seeking reelection to win very easily. In this electoral super-cycle from 2017 to 2019, you have had four presidents who have sought their reelection: Hernández, who achieved it with serious irregularities in an election, plagued with a very low levels of electoral integrity; Maduro, in an electoral farce; three, Evo, in a post-conflict situation with serious allegations of fraud, irregularities and; fourth, Macri, who just lost.
Then, we have a problem in the area of reelection that demonstrate this tiredness. Hopefully, the same will not happen in Honduras! In that in the other three countries: in Venezuela, in Nicaragua and in Bolivia, the electoral way out is no longer an option. We are facing situations of authoritarianism and even of dictatorships, in which they make elections to see if they can win, and if they don’t win, then, nothing, they do everything they have to do, including fraud, to remain (in power).
That is where we are finding a marked weakness in terms of regional instruments, of regional mechanisms, and of the sufficient political will necessary to be able to force the departure of these presidents, which is generating a perverse contagion effect. We see that Maduro stays in Venezuela, violates human rights, and nothing happens. Daniel Ortega does the same, and concentrates power, and violates all human rights, and also nothing happens. Then, Evo says: and why won’t I be able to do the same? And, so on.
Here there is a central problem. Nicaragua remains, unfortunately, always eclipsed and behind, of the Venezuelan crisis, and now of the crisis in Bolivia. It is not given the sufficient level of attention. And I believe that we must denounce not only the authoritarian regime of Ortega, but also that Nicaragua must have the level of attention it deserves and a level of solidarity that it deserves to seek a peaceful and electoral solution to its serious crisis.