Santiago, Chile, December 21 – When Latin American voters went to the polls in 2021, they had a clear message for the ruling elite: we have had enough.
In Chile, the most recent example, none of the traditional centrist parties in power since the end of the dictatorship 31 years ago have reached the second round of presidential elections.
Instead of the Millennium, left-wing outsider Gabriel Boric beat a far-right rival on Sunday.
Ecuador elected its first right-wing president in 14 years in April; Peru chose in June to make an unknown socialist rural teacher its president; and Honduras ended 12 years of conservative National Party rule in November, electing its first woman to lead.
In last month’s parliamentary elections, Argentinian voters dealt a blow to the centrist Peronist movement that dominated Congress for decades but lost control of the Senate for the first time.
“People are just fed up with the status quo and traditional economic and political elites,” analyst Michael Shifter of think tank Inter-American Dialogue told AFP.
“And so there’s a sort of rejection trend in a lot of countries… If governments fail, people look for alternatives.”
The result was an explosion of new political parties, a fragmentation of the vote, and outside leaders perceived to be closer to the people bursting onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere.
Peru had 18 presidential candidates in the first round, a record in 15 years.
– It’s the economy, stupid –
There has also been a tendency for a tight runoff between opposing polar candidates, with moderate voters dividing their support among centrist candidates to leave only two poles apart, as has happened in Chile, Peru and Ecuador.
With apathy and alienation on the rise, more and more voters are voting to protest.
Many Chilean voters, a country with a high abstention rate, for example told AFP that they had opted for the “lesser evil” on Sunday.
“I don’t think it has much to do with ideology,” New York University analyst Patricio Navia told AFP of the voting pattern.
“We have seen it since 2020, since the start of the pandemic, all incumbents – governments, parties or coalitions – have lost the elections in Latin America.”
There are many reasons.
Economic hardship, already a growing burden in many Latin American countries, has worsened since 2020 due to the pandemic and business losses due to lockdowns in the world’s most unequal region.
“When economic conditions were positive, all Latin American presidents were popular, left and right presidents,” Navia said.
During a commodity boom of around 2003 to 2013, the middle class in Latin America grew rapidly, and the trend was expected to continue.
The opposite turned out to be true.
– “More of the same” –
“People are fed up with traditional political parties because they feel like they don’t keep electoral promises and are ‘more the same’,” Maria Jaraquemada of the Institute told AFP. democracy and electoral assistance.
And they are sensitive to increasingly populist messages that “propose something against the elite, different from what has been done before,” she said.
“In the modern politics of every country, it is the most extremist voices that drive debate and social media amplify these voices,” added Shifter.
“There was a time when people voted for someone because they believed in him,” he said.
Now, “you have more and more elections that are (determined) by the lesser of two evils, and more negative votes, and that’s a big change.
This mix of voter polarization and dissatisfaction bodes well for a volatile future, analysts say.
“The economic situation is likely to get worse over the next few years, not improve, so the discontent will continue. The best indicator of unhappiness is bad economic times, ”said Navia.
“I guess the warning for Latin American leaders is that unless economic conditions improve they will remain largely unpopular.”
For Shifter, the next few years will probably be “quite difficult”.
“Partly the leaders are not of the caliber that are really capable of solving these problems, but also because the problems are much worse, more difficult to manage.”
Next year, new presidents will be elected in Colombia and Brazil, where the trend looks set to continue.
Colombian conservative Ivan Duque became his country’s most unpopular president in a year marked by social unrest and violent police crackdown that drew international condemnation.
Former leftist guerrilla Gustavo Petro leads the polls.
In Brazil, far-right Jair Bolsonaro is also massively unpopular amid a recession and missteps in his government’s response to Covid-19, with left-wing ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the verge to make a comeback, according to polls.
“It doesn’t mean as much enthusiasm for Lula as a simple rejection of Bolsonaro,” Shifter said.
“So that’s part of the tendency to reject. ”