The 3 elections in Latin America in 2022: how they could confirm the discontent in the region and give impetus to the left

The reelection of incumbent presidents in Latin America was so fashionable in the early years of this century that there were as many of leaders from the left or right.

But then the boom of raw materials, economic problems arose, corruption scandals and social unrest grew, manifested with several protests and that was consolidated with the covid-19 pandemic.

Now the Latin American electoral fashion has become very different: vote against him. establishment and give the opposition the opportunity to govern.

In 11 of the 12 presidential elections that have been completed in Latin America since 2019, the vote was to change the party in power.

The exception to this new rule is Nicaragua, but its November elections were considered a “farce” in the West: the president Daniel Ortega he managed to get reelected after his government incarcerated potential rivals.

“There is a general dissatisfaction with the political class and who ends up paying the bill is the party that is in power,” says Paulo Velasco, professor of International Politics at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, to BBC Mundo.

This picture of discontent could be completed in 2022 with three elections scheduled in the region, two of them in the most populous countries of South America: Brazil and Colombia.

Agenda and scenarios

The first Latin American general election of the new year is scheduled for February 6 in Costa Rica, with a possible ballot between the two most voted presidential candidates on April 3.

Among more than 20 registered candidates there are several known such as former centrist president José María Figueres (1994-1998), former conservative vice president Lineth Saborío or Fabricio Alvarado, a right-wing evangelical leader who in 2018 lost to the current president, Carlos Alvarado.

A voter inserts his ballot into a ballot box during the first round of the presidential elections in San José, Costa Rica, on February 4, 2018.
Costa Rica plans to hold the first elections of 2022 in Latin America.

In another sign of popular discontent with the governments of the day, Welmer Ramos, the candidate of President Alvarado’s Citizen Action Party, has had an intention to vote below the margin of error in some polls.

But the two elections that will focus attention in the region this year will be those of Colombia and Brazil, in calendar order.

The first round of the Colombian presidential elections is scheduled for May 29 (more than two months after the March legislative elections) and the possible second round for June 19.

Against the backdrop of the huge street protests of 2021 and various economic challenges, most voting intention polls put the leftist front and center. Gustavo Petro, an economist, ex-guerrilla and former mayor of Bogotá who lost the 2018 ballot to the current president Ivan duque.

Gustavo Petro speech
Getty Images
After losing the second round of 2018, Gustavo Petro will seek to be the first leftist elected president of Colombia.

An eventual victory for Petro would mark something unprecedented: the first time that a leftist candidate has been elected president of Colombia.

However, the country could also circumvent the left-right polarization that existed in recent Latin American elections.

The Colombian right led by former president Álvaro Uribe looks worn out after the Duque government and Petro may have to compete with a candidate from the center such as the former mayor of Medellín Sergio Fajardo, the Economist Alejandro Gaviria or the former senator Carlos Fernando Galán.

“That is a strong possibility in this country: we are not assured today of the polarization of a candidate from the left and another from the right,” Patricia Muñoz Yi, professor of Political Science at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, tells BBC Mundo.

On the other hand, everything indicates that Brazil will go in its October elections to a clash of poles between the current far-right president Jair bolsonaro and the former president of the left Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), acquitted of the corruption convictions he received.

Lula da Silva
Former President Lula da Silva appears as a favorite in the polls for the Brazilian elections.

In the South American giant, for now, it seems less likely that a “third-way” candidate such as the former judge will go to the second round. Sergio Moro or the former center-left candidate Ciro Gomes, according the surveys.

After strong criticism of Bolsonaro for his response to the pandemic or the weak economic performance of Brazil, Lula appears as a clear favorite in the voting polls for October 2 or for a ballot against the current president on October 30.

A wave from the left?

A victory for Lula in Brazil and Petro in Colombia would give new impetus to the left in Latin America, not only because of the relative weight of those countries.

Between 2020 and 2021, leftist candidates won in most of the elections held in the region: Luis Arce in Bolivia, Pedro Castillo in Peru, Xiomara Castro in Honduras and Gabriel boric in Chile, apart from the special case of Nicaragua.

However, some analysts rule out that a new regional “pink tide” can be predicted from now on, as there was in the first decade of the century with the election of several left-wing governments that managed to consolidate and be reelected.

“A picture is beginning to be drawn in which the governments of the left are the majority, but they do not follow the same trend and I do not see a pink tide as it was in the 2000s,” Velasco warns.

Jair bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has cast unfounded doubts about the vulnerability of the vote in his country.

In his opinion, it is normal that in several countries leftist options are chosen after the disappointment generated by right-wing presidents elected to replace governments of the opposite sign.

“If there were more governments on the left at the moment, the tendency would be for the right or the center-right to win,” he says.

In fact, the great challenge for Latin American rulers continues to be meeting the demands for better public services and social security, as well as less inequality, with which perhaps the left is more attuned.

Carrying out this task will be difficult in a Latin America with moderate economic growth (close to 3% in 2022, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, ECLAC), inflationary pressure and higher public debt, with the uncertainty that now poses the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Some even point out that social unrest can once again express itself on the streets of the region.

Protests in Colombia
Some warn that in 2022 protests such as those experienced by Colombia in recent years may return in Latin America.

“The poor or limited response of various governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to (…) multiple current crises could generate a new wave of massive and violent social protests,” said the Swedish-based intergovernmental institute Idea, in its report on the state of democracy in the region published in November.

Although he highlighted that during the pandemic there were signs of resilience, the text maintains that “attacks on electoral bodies have become more frequent” in Latin America, from the ruling party or the opposition, in Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru.

In this context, eyes will also be on the Brazilian elections after Bolsonaro unfoundedly stirred up the specter of fraud in 2021, as did his friend Donald trump before and after losing the 2020 reelection in the United States.

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