Latin America experienced a wave of socialist politics in the new millennium. Now the politics of the region are changing drastically.
Back in 1998 the election of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela caused an ideological earthquake. The aftershocks were soon felt over many parts of Latin America as the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s and 1990s came to a close, being swept away by what was to become known as the “pink tide”. There were subsequent elections of leftist governments across the region – in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador.
Recent presidential elections in Argentina and Peru, as well as the impeachment of Brazil’s socialist president Dilma Rousseff, have shown region-wide falls of left-wing presidents and their replacement by conservative candidates after over a decade of left-wing ideological dominance in Latin America. Dramatic election results in the past weeks would confirm the increase in voters’ dissatisfaction with ruling leftist governments, with the poor performance of left-wing parties in Chilean and Brazilian local elections.
In Chile Nueva Mayoría, the country’s governing coalition led by President Michelle Bachelet’s Socialist Party, lost their mayoral race in key counties such as Santiago and Maipu, and suffered a fall in their number of elected mayors on 23rd October of this year. Meanwhile, the main centre-right opposition coalition, Chile Vamos, increased its number of municipalities. This defeat of Nueva Mayoría is seen as a result of Chile’s poor economic performance with an annual GDP growth of 2.1% in 2014 and 2015 compared to the four years prior to its presidential election victory in 2014 when the country’s economy grew at an annual rate of 5.3%. The rise of the opposition in the local elections gives a key indication towards the upcoming presidential election in 2017. If economic performance remains stagnant and the centre-right opposition maintains their momentum, the collapse of governments on the left in other parts of the Americas will be replicated in Chile as well.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s second round of mayoral elections on 30th October also concluded with a large reduction in the number of municipalities controlled by the impeached president Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT). Voters punished the party for a corruption scandal involving its members and its poor handling of the economy, which has been experiencing deep economic recession since 2015.
Among state capitals, PT won only in Rio Branco in the state of Acre – it lost three capitals which it used to hold, including São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. Reductions in the number of elected mayors were also observed by the two other major Brazilian leftist parties, while the biggest winners of the elections were the centre-right Social Democrats (PSDB). The Democratic Movement (PMDB) of the current conservative President, Michel Temer, continues to control the highest number of municipalities with a modest increase from 1022 to 1038. These changes suggest that the right will win the next presidential election in 2018, further confirming the end of an era for the left in Latin America’s most populous nation and in the region at large.
Despite this, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua from the leftist Sadinista National Liberal Front was re-elected for his third consecutive term on 6th November 2016 with over 70% of the votes. President Rafael Correa of Ecuador cited a survey showing Ortega an approval rating of 61% in September. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales returned an approval rating of 46% this October, according to pollster Ipsos, despite failing to win a referendum in February that would enable him to run for a fourth term. Venezuela’s socialist government, which has been facing an opposition attempt to hold a recall referendum, mass protests and a recent strike, is also stubbornly holding on to its power. While the pink tide has receded in many countries, you can’t claim that socialism is lost in Latin America. It just no longer possesses the dominance it used to have.
Featured image: Wikimedia