Opinion: Will the Latin American Political Pendulum Swing Back to the Right?

After a majority of left-wing governments in Latin America, this could change in the coming years due to the low popularity of various governments .

Gustavo Petro and Luis Lacalle Pou

Photo: Latin American Post

LatinAmerican Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

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Leer en español: Opinión: ¿El péndulo político latinoamericano volverá a la derecha?

Today in Latin America the left rules, not only because most countries have socialist presidents, but also because the main economic powers are part of this group. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, the regional powers, all have leftist governments. However, this could change. The economic effects of the war in Ukraine and generalized inflation in various economies are ghosts that may claim their first victims. Especially, in the governments that will soon have to be submitted to a national vote.

At the end of 2022, several polling companies, including Ivamer, Criteria, Markestrategia, IPSOS, CID Gallup, among others, ranked the politicians with the best and worst ratings across the continent. Among the most prominent are Nayib Bukele from El Salvador (89%), Rodrigo Chávez from Costa Rica (73%) and Luis Abinader from the Dominican Republic (65%). Of these, Bukele is considered a right-wing government, despite its beginnings closest to socialism. For their part, both Chávez and Abinader are more moderate in the Latin American political landscape.

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Then come openly left-wing governments such as Xiomara Castro (58%), Andrés Manuel López Obrador (53%) and Lula da Silva (53%). Of these, Castro and Lula were recently elected, and it is likely that they are favored by how slightly worn out the electorate is. While the AMLO phenomenon stands out for being one of the longest presidencies (in Mexico, it governs for 6 years) and the remarkable support.

Below 50% we already find Gustavo Petro (45%), Luis Arce (44%) and Luis Lacalle (42%). The first two on the left and the last on the right. All these evidence the natural wear and tear of months and years in command, with internal fights or controversial reforms.

Among the heads of state who have obviously low approval are: Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua (33%), Guillermo Lasso from Ecuador and Alberto Fernández in Argentina (27%); Nicolás Maduro from Venezuela, the Chilean Gabriel Boric and Alejandro Gianmatei from Guatemala (26%); Dina Boluarte from Peru (23%), Laurentino Cortizo from Panama (22%); and in the background are Miguel Diaz-Canel from Cuba (14%) and Mario Abdo Benitez from Paraguay (12%). With this low popularity of these governments, the chances of losing the next elections are palpable.

This year, Argentina, Paraguay, and Guatemala will have presidential elections. Fernández, Gianmatei and Mario Abdo Benítez, and their parties, will put their low popularity at the polls to the test. Given this scenario, progressive governments could replace the more conservative governments of these 2 countries. But the third largest economy in Latin America could once again turn to the right.

However, beyond the 2023 elections, if the Latin American left does not improve its indicators, it could suffer several setbacks in 2024. For the following year, the region will have 6 presidential elections. El Salvador, Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela will go to the polls to elect (or re-elect) their rulers. Due to low popularity, the presidents of Panama and Venezuela could switch to other government models. If democracy served transparently, the unpopularity of the leaders would make re-election (or continuity) difficult, but the Venezuelan reality would almost guarantee a victory for Chavismo.

Likewise, it is most likely that Peru will hold presidential elections for next year or no later than 2024. Boluarte's low popularity and the political and institutional crises make it unpredictable to know the winner of an election. But it will be a contest that Latin American progressivism (with Pedro Castillo in power) did not plan to contest.

Countries like Peru, Argentina and Panama, with governments of the left or center-left (although today Peru manages other logics), will be able to pass into the hands of the center or the right. What would serve as a counterweight to the already tilted socialist balance in the region. Likewise, if there is an opposition victory in Venezuela, we will no longer be able to continue talking about a clear dominance of progressivism in the region, and return to the times of factions and axes.

Something Similar Happened with the Pandemic

If it is true that today's outlook can affect the image of progressive governments in the region, this is not new. A few years ago, when the pandemic hit the Latin American economies the hardest, the governments of the day suffered at the polls. Right-wing governments such as those of Ecuador (Lenin Moreno), Chile (Sebastián Pinera), Colombia (Iván Duque) and Brazil (Jair Bolsonaro) suffered from their low popularity. If it is true that each country experienced independent processes and specific cases, the influence of the pandemic on all governments around the world cannot be ignored.

The decisions and measures taken during these episodes influenced the presidential debates and could be decisive for an electoral victory. Today we see that other international influences can also impact the national political landscape and make the pendulum that is seen so far to the left today moderate or even change direction. This can also be seen as an exercise in political sanity, where the alternation of powers is a sign of free elections and peaceful transitions.


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