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Elections in Colombia

Credit: Shutterstock / Yhaira Rincon

On May 29, Colombia’s 2022 presidential elections got underway to determine the successor to the serving president, Iván Duque.

President Duque, a center-right politician, won the vote in 2018 in a second-round runoff with over 50% of the vote.

As no candidate is expected secure over half of the votes this time, according to preliminary results, Colombians will cast ballots again on June 19 in a runoff between the top two candidates.

Despite President Duque‘s landslide victory, in 2021 Colombia saw widespread protests, which may now push the country in the opposite political direction.

Gustavo Petro, with his left-leaning political views, stands a higher chance than his competitors to win the race. Petro is largely favored by those participating in the protests in 2021, especially the youth.

The second hope for presidency, according to the polls, is Rodolfo Hernández—a populist businessman turned politician who is often compared to Donald Trump.

If the polls and preliminary results in Bogotá are anything to go by, however, Petro has the upper hand.

Colombians traditionally vote conservative, and if elected, Petro will serve as the nation’s very first leftist president.
Colombia notwithstanding, leftist politics are by no means new to Latin America. The current embracing of socialist candidates is likely influenced by the economic hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic, which have not fully gone away yet.

The challenging years of 2020-2022 dealt a heavier blow to the working classes than the political elite and business leaders, hence the draw of a protectionist, socialist economy in more than a handful of LATAM countries.

Peru

Last year, Peru too held its general election under loosely similar circumstances, which led to the victory of the socialist president, Pedro Castillo.

Coming to power in the wake of political and economic crises with the help of rural voters outside Lima, Castillo will have to deliver real results to keep his supporters happy.

Castillo has little support from Peru’s political elite, who have already tried to end his tenure prematurely on more than one occasion.

In response, Castillo has adopted a more moderate left-wing stance, trying to keep the office.

Chile

The 35-year-old Gabriel Boric assumed office as the new president of Chile in March, 2022. Boric is a left-wing politician who claims to be committed to both socialism and democracy.

He has been described as “millennial left” and “woke” by The Economist.

His ascent to presidency in Chile, which had been governed by neoliberals for some thirty years prior to his election, was certainly a departure from the tradition.

His election, however, was not entirely because of his woke views. It was an answer to the nation’s economic woes and linked the 2019-2022 Chilean protests that spread from Santiago to the rest of the country.

Chile, one of the wealthiest economies in Latin America, has been struggling with the loss of many jobs, rising costs of living, and huge economic disparities over the last couple of years.

The Chilean voters expect Boric to put an end to these disparities, while keeping Chile a wealthy country.

Honduras

The year 2021 also marked the election of a new president in Honduras, where the left-leaning Xiomara Castro became the 56th president and the first female president of the Central American nation.

The former First Lady was sworn into office in January, 2022, putting an end to the conservative administration of Juan Orlando Hernández, which had been in power for eight years.

The last three years of Hernández’s term in office were marred by protests and discontent across Honduras. The growing influence of the evangelical church during Hernández’s tenure was undermining secularism, which was not to everyone’s taste in Honduras.

Castro has promised to reinstate a democratic form of socialism. More importantly for her electorate, she has vowed to fix the economy with transparency, efficiency, and fair and humane distribution of wealth.

Ecuador and more

Ecuador is the only major exception to the trend.

The center-right businessman, Guillermo Lasso, was chosen by the electorate as the country’s first non-socialist leader in many years. Lasso’s taking of office was interpreted as a notable shift in Ecuador’s politics.

Even so, Lasso’s particular brand of conservative politics is not radical.

We are going to see a couple of more elections in the LATAM region soon, including in Brazil and Costa Rica, where left-leaning candidates will try their luck.

Why is this happening?

A common theme here is that left-wing presidents elected in 2021 and 2022 have won not thanks to Latin Americans’ burning revolutionary passion, but because of growing economic disparities which have been plaguing the working class and middle class since the beginning of the pandemic.

After two challenging years that weakened the economies of Latin America, people want a transition of power to a viable alternative.

Parties and politicians with left-wing agendas are the go-to guys when an alternative is needed in this part of the world.

It should not be forgotten, however, that it was thanks to democratic mechanisms facilitating the peaceful transition of power that left-wingers are once again in charge in Peru, Chile, Honduras, and probably in Colombia soon.
To protect these democratic mechanisms, Latin American socialists will increasingly have to operate in a manner similar to that of European social democrats.

It goes without saying that the left-leaning politicians assuming office in 2021-2022 will be answerable to their electorate if they fail to deliver on their promises.

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