Category Archives: Latin America

Ecuador – Term Limits Re-introduced, but Questions Remain over Moreno Presidency

In Ecuador President Lenin Moreno has won a resounding victory against his predecessor, Rafael Correa, in a wide-ranging plebiscite. Nevertheless, questions remain over the nature and direction of the new government. More specifically, while the approval of a proposal to re-introduce presidential term limits has been hailed in some circles as bucking the region’s “authoritarian trend,” the jury remains out on Ecuador’s future democratic path.

What can be said with certainty at this stage is that for the first time in over a decade, former president Rafael Correa has come out on the losing side in a public vote. As noted previously in this blog, opposition to the plebiscite consisted almost exclusively of Correa and his supporters, all of whom until very recently were members of the governing party, Alianza PAIS. Ranged against them were all of the major political and social actors in the country united – it appears – by a common desire to achieve the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuadorian politics.

Making predictions about Ecuadorian politics is extremely risky, given the partisan nature of opinion polling. However, as one commentator noted, “for once” the opinion polls correctly predicted the outcome of the plebiscite. The ‘Yes’ vote achieved an overall majority of almost 2:1 across the seven questions[i] put to the electorate, by margins ranging between 26 and 47 per cent, figures that also line up with Moreno’s overall approval ratings.

In spite of the size of the winning margin for the government – only on three previous occasions in the past forty years has a plebiscite been carried by a wider margin[ii] – it could not be said to have succeeded entirely in vanquishing Correa. The former president was quick to hail what he described as a “great triumph” for his newly formed Movement of the Citizens’ Revolution, claiming that “no other single movement obtained 36% of the vote”.

While this claim smacks somewhat of desperation – Ospina estimates the true size of Correa’s core constituency at closer to 22%[iii] – it contains enough truth to trouble Moreno. Taking into account that the president won around 39% of the votes in the first round of voting in last year’s presidential election – and that all opposition parties campaigned for a ‘Yes’ – one analyst estimates that Moreno succeeded in winning over a mere 8-11% of government supporters.

These figures raise the question of how Moreno will govern from this point onward, and in particular how he will consolidate his hold on power. In this context, the results of the plebiscite are extremely interesting.

Most international attention has focussed on the approval of Question 2, which effectively restores presidential term limits. This move is significant in terms of halting a drift toward indefinite re-election, particularly in light of recent events in Bolivia. It must be remembered, however, that the result returns Ecuador to the position set out in its 2008 Constitution, which allows for one instance of re-election to the same post. In effect the plebiscite has therefore repealed the amendment pushed through by Correa in 2015 via the National Assembly (not a referendum), a process which met with vigorous opposition in the streets.

As a result, the plebiscite has undone one of the most unpopular measures of the Correa government, such that many believe it was significant in persuading Correa not to run for election in 2017. The reform does not prevent Moreno from running for re-election as president, and even presents the possibility – however theoretical – of Correa being elected to a different post.

In fact, for many commentators the outcome of Question 3 of the plebiscite may prove to be more significant in terms of Ecuadorian democracy. That question relates to the Committee for Citizen Participation and Popular Control (CPCCS). This institution was designed to act as a form or popular or citizen check on government power, but in effect was used by Correa as one of the primary means to concentrate power.

As Ecuadorian sociologist Mario Unda notes, a list of the state functions over which the CPCCS had nominating power is illustrative, including the Attorney General, Ombudsman, Controller General, National Electoral Council and Judiciary Council. In the words of one commentator, under Correa the CPCCS became the “nucleus of state control”.

Little wonder then that many observers are waiting anxiously to see what Moreno does with this much-coveted institution. The proposal approved in the plebiscite is to re-structure the Committee, starting by replacing all of its Correa-appointed members. Moreno has pledged that in the future members will be elected by the public.

Nevertheless in the short term there will be a transition period in which Moreno will propose a shortlist of candidates to be approved by the legislature. In the view of Ospina, this gives Moreno “almost unlimited power” over the CPCCS[iv].

For a president with such a diminished core of support and relatively precarious hold on power, this process appears to present a “golden opportunity” to consolidate power. On the other hand, Moreno is coming under increasing pressure from other political players seeking to co-opt the CPCCS. What happens next will tell us a lot about Moreno and the true extent of change in Ecuador.

Notes

[i] The other questions related to: the removal of political rights for those guilty of corruption; the election of new members of the Committee for Citizen Participation and Popular Control; the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax Law; the extension of the ‘intangible zone’ in Yasuni National Park; restrictions on mining in protected areas; enhanced protections for children.

[ii] Pablo Ospina, 2018. Informe de Coyuntura: De la Consulta Popular as la edad de las presiones. CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Febrero. Available at: http://www.cepecuador.org/images/PDFs/coyuntura_ecuador_febrero_2018.pdf

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

Gregory J. Love and Ryan E. Carlin – The Power of Popularity? Comparing Executive Approval over Time and Space with the Executive Approval Database

This is a guest post by Gregory J. Love and Ryan E. Carlin

What makes political executives powerful? Students of comparative political institutions have painstakingly pored through parchment and practice to elaborate detailed indicators of executive powers. Such measures have advanced our understanding of executive power tremendously. Yet, arguably, one of executive’s most powerful tool can’t be found in the text of constitutions, legal statues, or norms.  And unlike the powers deriving from these sources, this crucial tool is often ephemeral and downright fickle. It is the power of popularity.

A quick glance at news coverage of democratic national leaders will show just how fascinated the media and political elites alike are with popularity ratings. This is true whether the head of government is a president or a prime minister, whether scheduled elections are next week or years away, or whether the leader is enjoying a “honeymoon” or is a “lame duck.” But why are approval ratings of such widespread interest when, in theory, citizens’ decisions vis-à-vis representation and accountability are taken at the ballot box?

For prime ministers, popular support is central to job security. When leaders are viewed as “weak” – often a synonym for being disliked by the electorate – they risk votes of no confidence and internal party removal. Of course, popularity matters not only at its nadir but at its apex, as well. High ratings strengthen the prime minister’s hand when it comes to keeping coalition partners and dissident party factions in check. The threat of a no-confidence vote rings hollow when the incumbent prime minister’s party stands to gain at new elections. Popular prime ministers, thus, can more easily see their agenda implemented.

For presidents, public approval is no less powerful. As Stimson put it, “If the real power of the presidency is not directly proportional to the most recent Gallup popularity rating, it is not far from it” (1976, 2). Yet institutional features of presidentialism – fixed terms, separation-of-powers, and in some cases non-concurrent legislative or sub-national elections – add nuance to presidents’ ability to harness public approval. Popularity is probably more valuable early in their terms, when they seek to make hay during a “honeymoon” period. Popularity’s political value is lowest when term limits turn presidents into lame ducks. Dynamics that do not match a cyclical pattern of honeymoon, decay, and a slight uptick as elections near may be precursors of instability. For example, extremely unpopular presidents can face the same prospects as a prime minister: removal from office (such as Dilma Roussef in Brazil).

While the attention that political elites and the public at large shower on executive approval ratings is warranted, we know relatively little about executive approval in comparative perspective. Aside from the (inconsistent) evidence that the economy matters and some vague sense that rally ‘round the flag events do, too, it is entirely unclear how context shapes the dynamics, drivers, and policy implications of executive approval.

The Executive Approval Database 1.0

Our ability to carry out comparative research on executive approval has been seriously limited by lack of high quality comparative longitudinal macro-public opinion data. To address this shortcoming, in 2016 the Executive Approval Project (EAP) launched the Executive Approval Dataset (EAD 1.0).

Producing comparable data on presidential and prime minister approval across countries, time, and regions presents myriad challenges. First is data collection. The EAP’s goal is to gather the universe of time series (survey marginals) tapping respondents’ assessments of executive performance. Its web-based visualization tool shows the breadth of data collection. Most of 30+ countries in the EAD have between 12 and 36 approval series from public and private polling sources.

The second challenge is aggregation. Differences in question wording, response categories, and periodicity as well as missingness complicate valid analyses with comparable data. Premised on the idea that these series tap the same underlying construct, the EAD uses Stimson’s (1991; 2015) dyads algorithm to create a single, continuous, and smoothed measure (to account for sampling variance and differing frames). A detailed description of the algorithm and software (WCalc) can be found here. While Stimson’s approach is widely used, and easily implemented via the EAP’s visualization tool, it is not the only option. Researchers are welcome to download the EAD’s input series from the website and use their own aggregation approaches.

The EAD 1.0 contains over 11,000 survey marginals and 330 time series pertaining to over 140 presidents in 18 Latin American countries. Using these data, we produce the following figure, which represents the most broadly comparable measurement of presidential approval to date.

Research Applications of the EAD

Over the past six years a growing number of researchers have used the EAD. We can group the existing work into two broad categories: (1) papers explaining the dynamics of executive popularity and (2) papers focusing on the effects of executive approval on politics and policy.

In the first group of projects, researchers look at factors such as economic performance, corruption and scandals, terrorism, populist rhetoric and policies, and institutional constructs to understand when leaders fail (or succeed) in the eyes of the public. As for the consequences of executive popularity, the works are fewer but growing rapidly. New papers explore the role of approval on policy agendas, executive decrees, and other aspects of the executive-legislative process. A bibliography of papers using the EAD can be found here.

Going Forward

The EAP aims to update and expand the dataset’s coverage in Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America, and Africa for the EAD 2.0 release in summer 2018. To that end, the EAP is establishing Country Teams with partner institutions around the world. And we are always looking for new partners!

If you wish to contribute, or to collect, executive approval data for a particular country, or set of countries, we’d love to enlist your help. Please contact the authors for more information.

The Executive Approval Project Core Team is:
Ryan Carlin, Georgia State University
Jonathan Hartlyn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Timothy Hellwig, Indiana University
Gregory Love, University of Mississippi
Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Matthew Singer, University of Connecticut

Adrián Albala – How Bicameralism patterns the formation and dissolution of coalitions in presidential regimes

This is a guest post by Adrián Albala, University of Brasilia, Brazil. Contact: adrian.albala@gmail.com. It is based on a paper published in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations

In recent years, there have been huge advances in coalition theories, particularly concerning coalitions in parliamentary systems. However, much of the literature dealing with coalitions under presidential regimes has tended limit itself to reproducing and importing models from the work on parliamentary regimes, without considering the particularities of presidentialism.

Three features of presidentialism may interfere with the coalition process. First, the main particularity of presidentialism is the “winner-takes-all” principle. This states that the election determines a clear winner.

This feature makes it almost impossible for there to be any surprise in identifying the president-elect[1]. This is quite different from most parliamentary regimes in which the identification of a clear winner may be more difficult, and the subsequent composition of the government is, often, very hard to predict. Indeed, under parliamentary regimes elections consist of a “photograph” that depicts the strength of each party or coalition in parliament in order to determine which will have a majority for forming a government. Figure 1 sets out this difference between the two processes.

Figure 1: Election processes in parliamentary regimes/ presidential regimes

The example of Belgium in 2011-2012, where negotiations lasted almost a year and a half, during which the country had no formal government, constitutes a paradigmatic example of this feature. However, this is a recurrent feature of parliamentary politics and has happened = again in Belgium (2015), but also in the UK (2010), Ireland (2016), Spain (2016-17), Germany (2017-18), Italy (2013) and Greece (2014-2015).

The second particularity of presidentialism is the principle of the presidential mandate. This implies that both the inauguration and the conclusion of the presidential mandate are settled by the constitution. This supposes that on the day of the inauguration of the presidency the president has to have his government formed. Moreover, the termination of the mandate should not, theoretically, be dependent on a majority (re)alignment in the congress. Recent events in Brazil have shown that this principle is not deterministic: a president can be impeached for political and opportunistic motivations.

Finally, the third particularity of presidential regimes is symmetrical bicameralism. As a matter of fact, bicameral congresses under presidentialism used to be symmetric, i.e. both chambers used to have the same powers and attributes. This is quite different from parliamentary regimes, where most of the upper chambers – except in Italy – have a mere consultative role.

This is of particular importance as bicameralism supposes a two-round procedure in the policymaking process for the president, thus increasing what Lupia and Strøm (2008) call “the shadow of the unexpected”. For this reason, it is reasonable to state that for those polities with a bicameral congress, holding a bicameral majority is a relevant condition for both the policymaking process and coalition governance (Hiroi and Rennó 2014). By the same token, controlling only one of the two chambers by the president might not be sufficient to ensure that policies get approval, or even to guarantee the survival of the coalition.

When considering coalition cabinet formation and dissolution, I argue that this third particularism is strongly linked to the first two. Indeed, for too long, scholars have studied coalitions under presidential regimes as they did under parliamentarism: assuming that the executive needed to look for allies in only one chamber. However, symmetric bicameralism makes such an assumption untenable. In fact, bicameralism, particularly symmetrical bicameralism in presidential regimes, may contain significant constraints for policymaking and coalition duration. Indeed, controlling one of the two chambers may not be sufficient for the president to ensure policy approval.

This misconsideration is particularly true when reviewing the literature about coalition cabinets under presidential regimes. More particularly, an important number of works have modeled the president’s ability to govern based on his/her legislative strength, or on the distribution of portfolios following Gamson’s law (i.e based on the proportionality principal of the strength of each party in the legislative branch), also known as “coalition congruence”. However almost every study dealing with this issue has measured the legislative strength or coalition congruence, based only on their observation of the lower chamber. In other words, almost no study has ever considered the upper chamber (i. e the Senate) as a relevant actor in the coalition process. We need to consider both bicameralism and bicameral majorities as relevant variables for the understanding of coalition cabinets under presidential regimes. The only work on this topic in parliamentary regimes reaches contradictory conclusions (Eppner and Ganghof 2016; Druckman et al. 2005; Diermeier et al. 2007; Druckman and Thies 2002)

This is what this paper tries to explore, focusing on Latin American presidential regimes that have experienced coalition cabinets.

First of all, half of Latin American countries (9/18) have a bicameral legislature. Bicameralism is not a trivial issue. This number is even higher if we compute every government since the third wave of democratization in the region, which began in 1979. Indeed, I have considered 134 governments in the region, i.e., cabinets following electoral processes. Of these, 54.47% (74) were formed in bicameral polities.

Moreover, when focusing on the occurrence of coalition cabinets, the relevance of bicameralism becomes even more central. Indeed, based on a strict but common definition of coalition cabinets (see Albala 2016), I have computed 31 newly formed coalition cabinets since 1980. That is 31 cabinets that were coalitions on the day of the president assumed office (See Table 1).

Of those 31 coalitions, 29 (93,5%) were formed in bicameral polities. Only Ecuadorian coalitions were formed in polities with a unicameral congress. In other words, for every ten coalitions to be formed in Latin American presidential regimes, more than nine occurred in polities with a bicameral congress. Why has no-one ever considered this feature?

The bicameral condition

I stated above that bicameral congresses under presidential regimes used to be symmetric, that is to say that the two houses (House of Deputies and the Senate) used to share similar attributes and powers. Thus, to ensure governability, a president-elect prefers to enjoy a bicameral majority rather than a partial majority (only one chamber) or no majority.

I have stated also the principle of a fixed presidential mandate. The president’s mandate not only concerns the end of the administration but also the beginning. Thus, the process of cabinet formation under presidentialism is limited in time, running from the proclamation of the result of the election to the inauguration day, generally fixed by the constitution. This feature supposes that the president will have formed his/her cabinet by inauguration.

Then, in order to determine how the combination of those two features (bicameralism + fixed mandate) may affect the coalition formation process, I compared the parliamentary strength of the coalitions after the election day of the president, with their strength at inauguration day.

We may, thus, theoretically, expect that presidents-elect who could not get a bicameral majority on the day of their election would seek to enlarge their parliamentary support including newcomers to their electoral alliance.

Results and findings

In Table 2, I identify 29 presidents-elect, comparing their legislative strength at election day with their strength at inauguration day. I simplified the operationalization of the legislative strength into three categories: i) no presidential majority at all ; ii) a legislative majority in one House; and, iii) a bicameral majority.

The data clearly confirms the hypothesis. Indeed, only 37.93% (11/29) of the presidents-elect had a bicameral majority (2) at election day. Nevertheless, the rate raises at 65.6% (19/29) at inauguration day, indicating that 8 presidents-elect proceeded to open negotiations with other parties to form a coalition or enlarge their electoral coalition. In other words, 8 presidents-elect who could not obtain a bicameral majority via the election, decided to include new members before their inauguration in order to get a bicameral majority. Conversely, the rate of minority coalitions (full or partial) fell from 62,06% ( 0= 31,03% + 1= 31.03%) to 34,4% (10,3% +24,13%).

Additionally, among the presidents who failed to obtain bicameral majorities, the first three Chilean presidents since the return of democracy (Aylwin, Frei and Lagos) had to deal with a particular constitutional feature inherited from the Pinochet rule: the existence of 9 designated senators, mostly from the military forces, who prevented the government from reaching a majority in the Senate.

By contrast, the data shows that bicameralism has been a central feature for presidents-elect who were not able to reach a bicameral majority while running alone. Indeed, among the three cases that ran alone on election day, all of them negotiated with new partners and achieved a bicameral majority.

In the cases where the length of time between election day and and inauguration day is longer – Uruguay and Brazil – there was a high degree of coalition enlargement and only one president-elect failed to achieve a bicameral majority (Lula I). However, among the polities with the shortest of time between election day and and inauguration day we can distinguish between Bolivian presidents-elect who have always managed to obtain a bicameral majority and Argentinian presidents-elect, who led coalition cabinets, but who have never enjoyed majorities in the two houses. Therefore, the timing condition deserves further attention.

We also found that in the cases where president-elect won a majority in only one chamber, the chamber in which the president-elect was unable to reach a majority was systematically the Senate. Hence, the upper chamber seems to be harder to conquer for presidents. This finding should also open a new line of investigation.

Finally, we also found that a bicameral majority makes it easier for the coalition governance generally and, thus, constitutes a sufficient, but not necessary, condition for enduring coalition agreements.

In this work, I have highlighted the need to adapt the study of coalition cabinets under presidential regimes to the particularities of such regimes. Indeed, I have shown out that presidentialism has a critical impact on the timing of the coalition formation process. Moreover, bicameralism is a central feature for the presidents-elect. These elements, in turn, open up new fields of study. For instance, no study has ever considered the role of the vice-president. However, vice-presidents can play a key role, especially when when (e.g. Argentina, Uruguay, and Venezuela) they are also the chair of the upper house.

Notes

[1] There are, however, some exceptions. For example, Bolivia used to have a system that could lead to “surprises”. Indeed until 2008, when no candidate reached the absolute majority, the run off used to take place in parliament leading to parliamentary bargains. Sometimes, the president-elect was not the one who won the plurality at the popular election.

References

Albala, A. (2016) Coalitions Gouvernementales et Régime Présidentiel. Sarbruken: Editions Universitaires Europ­éennes.

Diermeier D, Eraslan H, and Merlo A (2007) Bicameralism and Government Formation. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2(3): 227–252.

Druckman J N, Martin L, and Thies M (2005) Influence without Confidence: Upper Chambers and Government Formation. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 30(4): 529- 548.

Druckman JN., and Thies M (2002) The Importance of Concurrence: The Impact of Bicameralism on Government Formation and Duration. American Journal of Political Science, 46(4): 760-771.

Eppner S, and Ganghof S (2016) Institutional veto players and cabinet formation: The veto control hypothesis reconsidered. European Journal of Political Research. DOI: 10.1111/1475-6765.12172.

Eppner S, and Ganghof S 2015. Do (weak) upper houses matter for cabinet formation? A replication and correction. Research and Politics. 2(1): 1–5.

Hiroi T and Rennó L (2014) Dimensions of Legislative Conflict: Coalitions, Obstructionism, and Lawmaking in Multiparty Presidential Regimes. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 39(3): 357-386.

Lupia A and Strøm K (2008) Bargaining, Transaction Costs and Coalition Governance. In Strøm K, Müller W and Bergman T (eds) Cabinet and coalition bargaining. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 51-84.

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan – Gendered Opportunities and Constraints: How Executive Sex and Approval Influence Executive Decree Issuance

This is a guest post by Sarah Shair-Rosenfield and Alissandra T. Stoyan. It is based on their paper in Political Research Quarterly.

Over the last two decades democracies worldwide have elected record-setting numbers of women presidents – in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Liberia, Philippines, South Korean, and Taiwan to name just a few. One of the most frequently touted benefits of electing women to any office is the expectation that they tend to rely on or prefer a model of leadership based on negotiation and consensus-building. Indeed, that very quality is often highlighted by journalism about women’s political successes or sometimes promoted by women themselves.

Portrayals like this are typically built on the actions and behaviors of women legislators, or the behavior of legislatures with substantial proportions of female members. Legislatures may lend themselves to studies of gender and leadership styles or preferences because there are relatively more women legislators to evaluate. Legislatures also vary in the size of their female contingents, so it is possible to compare outcomes across different levels of female representation. Perhaps most importantly, it is also easier to understand why negotiation and consensus might be useful for governance: legislatures are themselves collective bodies that must form at least a majority to accomplish most tasks.

Conversely, it has been difficult for political scientists to study how leadership styles might translate to governance strategies of presidents. Although women presidents are more common today, they are still relatively rare. Furthermore, presidents may need to work with legislative counterparts to affect the policy agenda, but they also often have a range of unilateral powers at their disposal. This may reduce their reliance on or preference for negotiation and consensus. How might we expect the assumptions about women’s leadership styles to shape women’s use of their unilateral presidential powers, such as the ability to issue executive decrees?

In our new work, we use a paired-comparative approach to evaluate rates of executive decree issuance in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Costa Rica between 2000 and 2014. In each case, a woman president succeeded a man from the same political party. The advantage of this research design is that each pair of presidents faced the same institutional constraints, the same or highly similar partisan opponents, and the same or similar own-party policy preferences. This means we can eliminate a host of alternative factors that might explain variation in decree issuance. Instead, we are able to narrow our focus to the effect of gender on a president’s tendency to make use of her or his unilateral decree power.

We find that gender by itself matters somewhat to rates of decree issuance; women do appear less likely to rule by decree overall. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina) and Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica) are much less likely to use such power compared to their predecessors, while Michelle Bachelet (Chile) is slightly less likely to do so and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil) issues decrees at higher rates than her predecessor. Collectively this provides some evidence that there is a gender-based difference in the use of this type of presidential authority.

However, a more nuanced look at when and why presidents wield such power reveals additional information about the gender-based difference. Presidents are presumed to have the option of “going public” in order to influence the policy agenda. For example, a president may consider that high public approval ratings indicate a public mandate or support for action. Rather than trying to bargain or work with congress to pass legislation, a popular president may feel confident in issuing more decrees to accomplish her or his policy goals. A president motivated to work collaboratively or build consensus should be less interested in this “go public” option, and should rely on it less frequently.

When we account for a president’s approval rating, we see very different trends emerge in the decree issuance of women and men presidents. This figure shows that the (relatively low) rate at which women issue decrees is largely unaffected by how popular they are with the public. In contrast, men become much more likely to issue decrees as they get more popular. The gap in decree issuance by women and men is widest and most consistent with high levels of approval, but this gap narrows as presidents face declining approval that prevents them from being able to assert their will.

Scholars have often assumed that Latin American presidents are prone to abusing their unilateral authority, especially when they are or become more popular. At higher levels of popularity, presidents might be emboldened to “go public” with their policy preferences, rather than wasting their time and resources negotiating with the legislature. What we find suggests that this assumption may be true for Latin America’s presidentes in general, but that its presidentas tend to be less abusive of their authority even when they are popular enough to potentially do so.

As more women run for high office around the world, it seems important to consider this evidence of gendered differences in leadership that point to a new model of presidential self-restraint. Further analysis could illuminate distinctions in women’s motivations for governing as they do, in terms of both their strategic motivations and also the substance of the policies they may pursue.

Venezuela – Presidential Election to be Held on April 22

Yesterday, the president of the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (CNE – Consejo Nacional Electoral), Tibisay Lucena, announced that presidential elections would be held on Sunday April 22. Both representatives of the opposition and the government, who have been meeting in the Dominican Republic to address the political and economic crises engulfing the country, agreed on this date. Soon after consensus on the date was reached however, the talks disintegrated over disagreement about the conditions of the vote itself. The opposition has refused to sign the draft agreement proposed by the government and has accused the ruling party of refusing to allow a free and fair vote in April’s elections.

This follows the announcement of Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly last month that a ‘snap’ presidential election would be held in April. President Nicolás Maduro had previously indicated that he would be seeking another six-year term and this week, the ruling socialist party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) officially announced that Maduro would be their candidate. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December and the decision of the Constituent Assembly to hold an election so soon in April appears to be part of a wider government strategy of electoral manipulation to ensure that they remain in power.

Indeed, Nicolás Maduro is the clear favourite to win the election. Registration of the candidates will begin on February 24-26 and campaigning will only be allowed for three weeks between April 2 and April 19. The most well-known opposition figures, Henrique Capriles and Leopoldo López are unable to stand in the election; Capriles is barred from office and López is currently under house arrest. Notwithstanding the very short notice and opaque electoral rules, the main opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), is also just in poor shape to contest an election. Henrique Capriles announced before Christmas that he was leaving the MUD coalition in response to the decision of four MUD governors to swear allegiance to the Constituent Assembly following gubernatorial elections last October, which was suggestive of a larger schism among the opposition.

On top of all this, it is not even yet clear if the opposition will be able to take part in the election at all. In December, the Constituent Assembly adopted a decree that stated that political parties that wish to take part in elections in Venezuela must have been active in prior elections. The reason that this is significant is because a broad swathe of the opposition, following the October gubernatorial elections, agreed to boycott December’s municipal elections. By refusing to take part in the municipal elections, the bulk of the opposition may have provided the Constituent Assembly and the CNE with an excuse to bar them from April’s presidential elections.

Only one realistic opposition candidate has emerged: Henry Ramos Allup, who at 74, is the former leader of the National Assembly. His party, Acción Democrática, is still eligible to run in the election although he has not yet indicated whether he will take part or not.

Regardless, given the Maduro regime’s willingness to follow the electoral authoritarian playbook, it seems likely that even if the opposition can unite behind one, eligible candidate, it will be nigh on impossible to unseat Nicolás Maduro.

Venezuela – Snap Presidential Elections for April Announced

On Tuesday of this week, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly announced that a ‘snap’ presidential election would be held this April and shortly after this announcement, President Nicolás Maduro confirmed at a public rally that he would be seeking another six-year term. Presidential elections in Venezuela have traditionally been held in December and the decision of the Constituent Assembly to bring the election forward at such short notice appears to be part of a wider government strategy of electoral manipulation to ensure that they remain in power. The actual date of the election in April has yet to be set.

The announcement has been condemned by both the US State Department in Washington and the Lima Group, comprising the foreign ministers and representatives of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia.

In a highly controversial move, President Maduro created the constituent assembly by decree in July, primarily for two main reasons; firstly, to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state, and secondly, to sideline the opposition dominated Congress that has proven such a thorn in Maduro’s side. In the last legislative elections in December 2015, the government lost their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance. Although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political machinations managed to prevent the super-majority taking their seats, by barring three opposition legislators due to alleged election irregularities.

Since then, Venezuela has been mired in a deep and protracted political and economic crisis. In order to provide some respite from this crisis, the Venezuelan government and members of the opposition have spent the last three months meeting in the Dominican Republic to thrash out a set of electoral procedures that would be acceptable to both sides, including reform of the National Electoral Council, CNE (Consejo Nacional Electoral). Announcing a presidential election at such short notice before any agreement has been reached however, suggests that the government is abandoning this process.

This does not augur well for the fairness and competitiveness of the scheduled presidential elections. We have written before on this blog, particularly with reference to Venezuela, about electoral or competitive authoritarianism, a coin termed by Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way in a seminal paper back in 2002. These are regimes that they describe as a ‘diminished form of authoritarianism’ and involve the reform of political institutions to centralize power and distort the electoral arena in order to stack the deck in favor of the incumbent. Democracy remains, particularly the façade of procedural democracy, but it is of a much-weakened variety.

This announcement seems to be straight out of the competitive authoritarian handbook and the election in April will most likely follow the script of recent gubernatorial elections from October of last year, where the governing coalition of Nicolás Maduro eventually won 18 states of the 23, with the opposition coalition MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática), taking the remaining five. These gubernatorial elections had long been subject to political manipulation. The CNE had prevaricated about when, and indeed if, these elections would be held. Initially slated to be held in December 2016, they were pushed back until mid-2017. In May 2017, the elections were scheduled for December 2017, before the electoral council announced a date in October.  During the elections themselves, numerous problems arose. For example, at the last minute, 273 voting centres were relocated, largely from areas where the MUD is strong, for security reasons, and some ballots continued to carry the names of defeated primary candidates.

The big question of course is whether Maduro can win this snap election, even with the concomitant manipulation of the process. In the midst of the political and economic turmoil, Maduro’s approval rating has fallen to about 30 per cent. The gubernatorial elections however, and the decision of the newly elected opposition governors to wear allegiance to the Constituent Assembly, has caused a rupture and in-fighting within the opposition coalition. For Maduro, this might explain the decision to hold the elections so soon. Carpe diem.

 

Ecuador – Former President Correa Cries Coup as Current President Moreno Convokes Plebiscite on Re-Election Ban

The falling out between Rafael Correa and Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s past and current presidents respectively, has reached the level of a full-scale civil war that threatens to split the country’s governing party in a conflict over what many are calling the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuador.

The dominant characterisation of this schism has Moreno making a ‘shift to the right’ away from Correa’s ‘leftist’ policies. For example, in the view of the Financial Times Moreno has begun dismantling Correa’s “populist left-wing legacy” and forging relations with the business community. Meanwhile Correa accuses Moreno of “betrayal,” claiming that he is of the “centre-right” and has “no convictions”.

However, further analysis reveals that the issues at the heart of this extraordinary internecine conflict – which the BBC dubbed “Ecuador’s Game of Thrones” – relate to personality and political style rather than ideology. To be specific, they relate to Correa’s personality and political style.

As previously reported here, Lenin Moreno was elected in April of last year by the narrowest of margins, and under somewhat questionable conditions. Having served as Vice-President to Correa –who stepped down as President after a decade in power – many assumed that Moreno would be little more than a puppet. Some even compared the situation to that which existed in Russia between Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin between 2008 and 2012.

No one is talking about that any more. Instead a far more likely scenario is the division of governing party Alianza PAIS into pro- and anti-Correa factions.

The situation has been brought to a head by a number of dramatic, headline-grabbing events. First came the preventative detention and prosecution of Moreno’s Vice-President (successor to Moreno as Correa’s Vice-President) Jorge Glas on corruption charges relating to the Odebrecht scandal. Last month Glas was jailed for six years. He was subsequently removed from the post and replaced by Maria Alejandra Vicuña. Impeachment proceedings have been instituted against Glas.

Moreno has also criticised the economic situation he inherited, enacted cuts to public spending, ordered an audit of the legality of Ecuador’s debt, and is seeking to bring its extension of asylum to Julian Assange to an end. Most significantly of all, Moreno has convoked a plebiscite for February 4th which proposes a range of reforms, among them a ban on presidential re-election[i]. This proposal would reverse the amendment abolishing term limits introduced by Correa in 2015, and bar the former president from running again.

Correa and his allies have reacted with increasing fury to these unfolding events, labelling Moreno a “traitor” and accusing him of destroying the legacy of the ‘Citizens’ Revolution’. Correa has characterised Moreno’s cuts as an “austerity package,” and criticised his meetings with business elites and the political right.

As previously reported here, in November pro-Correa factions moved to oust Moreno as president of Alianza PAIS. Moreno was able to have the decision overturned by the National Electoral Council (CNE), however, and the issue has been referred to the Contentious Electoral Tribunal (TCE) for a ruling. As a result, a split appears increasingly likely, with Correa now openly considering forming a rival party.

The most strident criticism of Moreno has focussed on the methods used to convoke the plebiscite. Rather than submit the proposed questions to the Constitutional Court for clarification, Moreno issued an executive decree instructing the CNE to proceed to put the selected questions to the electorate. Moreno justified the decree on procedural grounds, but pro-Correa figures have rejected that explanation. Former Chancellor Ricardo Patiño has labelled the plebiscite “unconstitutional,” while in an open letter of resignation, Ecuador’s UN Ambassador Guillaume Long denounced Moreno’s “dangerous authoritarianism” and “false ecumenism”.

Naturally the strongest criticism has come from Correa, who described the move as “treason” and an attempt at a “coup d’etat.” On January 5th Correa flew back to Ecuador from his home in Belgium to lead the ‘No’ campaign. As a result, Ecuador faces the paradoxical situation where, in the words of Pablo Ospina of the Simon Bolivar Andean University, “the only political movement opposed to the plebiscite is part of the party of the president who convoked it”[ii].

Yet Correa appears to be losing this game of political chess. In terms of support from members of the parliamentary party, Moreno has secured almost twice as many endorsements. Furthermore, according opinion polls Correa’s approval ratings – a consistent source of strength during his time as president – have plummeted to below 30% over the past year, during which time Moreno’s have risen to over 70%. Other polls point to public support for the ban on presidential re-election in the plebiscite.

A recent study of the decade-long Correa regime offers insight into why Moreno looks to be on a path to defeating his former leader[iii]. Utilising the concept of “competitive authoritarianism” developed by Levitsky and Way[iv], Sanchez-Sibony concludes that Correa slanted the electoral playing field and utilised state control of the economy as a substitute for party organisation.

This analysis chimes with that of Ospina, who notes that Correa’s power was based on a combination of charisma and state control. Moreno may lack charisma, but it appears that in contemporary Ecuador, control of the state apparatus is more important. That Moreno appears to be successfully using Correa’s own tools against him is an irony that has not been lost on the former president’s critics.

In particular, Ospina points to Moreno’s strategic approach to opponents on both the left and the right, offering to each some but not all of what they demand[v]. For example, while Moreno did reduce public spending, the move was described as “moderate” by business associations who continue to push the president for deeper cuts. In Moreno’s cabinet, portfolios relating to the productive economy have gone to those with business links, while those with oversight of social policy have been entrusted to left-wing intellectuals.

This method can also be observed in the formation of the questions proposed for the plebiscite. To those on the right, Moreno has offered the possibility of eliminating Correa’s Capital Gains Tax, but has refused to amend the controversial Communications Law. For indigenous movements and environmentalists there is the prospect of restrictions on mining in protected areas, but not the total prohibition sought.

All of which brings the discussion back, inevitably, to Correa. Talk of Moreno ‘betraying’ the Citizens’ Revolution overlooks the fact that Correa himself had moved the project far from its origins during his ten-year reign. Numerous policy switches took place over that time[vi], including the signing of a free trade deal with the European Union and renewed borrowing from the IMF. In terms of the governing coalition, left-wing intellectuals and social movements had long-since been replaced by statist technocrats, ‘modern’ business people, and state contractors.

Several commentators have pointed out that Moreno is not fundamentally altering the economic model of the Correa years, which remains highly dependent on primary commodities, agribusiness, and borrowing. The real source of the conflict here is political.

It is questionable whether Moreno can hold together his ‘rainbow coalition’ of left and right in the long run. In constitution it is redolent of the first cabinet of former President Lucio Gutiérrez, which lasted all of six months before it fell apart under the weight of its internal contradictions[vii].

But for now Ecuador’s left and right are united behind Moreno’s attempt to achieve the ‘de-Correa-ification’ of Ecuadorian politics. Upon that point there appears to be widespread agreement, not only among social and political actors, but in the general public also. Correa may continue to dominate the headlines in Ecuador, but it looks increasingly as though his period of electoral dominance may be drawing to a close.

Notes

[i] The other questions include: The removal of political rights for those guilty of corruption; the election of new members of the Civic Participation Council; the repeal of the Capital Gains Tax Law; the extension of the ‘intangible zone’ in Yasuni National Park; restrictions on mining in protected areas; enhanced protections for children.

[ii] Pablo Ospina, 2017. Informe de Coyuntura: Traición e Infidelidad, los Dioses También Lloran. CEP Informe de Coyuntura, Diciembre. Available at: http://www.cepecuador.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=15&Itemid=114.

[iii] Omar Sanchez-Sibony, 2017. Classifying Ecuador’s Regime under Correa: A Procedural Approach. Journal of Politics in Latin America, Vol. 9(3), pp. 121-140.

[iv] Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way. 2001. The Rise of Competitive Authoritarianism. Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13(2), pp. 51-65.

[v] Ospina, 2017.

[vi] Sanchez-Sibony, 2017.

[vii] César Montúfar, 2008. ‘El Populismo Intermitente de Lucio Gutiérrez,’ in Carlos de la Torre and Enrique Peruzzotti (eds.), El Retorno del Pueblo: Populismo y Nuevas Democracias en América Latina. Quito: FLACSO Ecuador.

Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault – The influence of the presidential system on the character of Latin American democracy

This is a guest post by Manuel Alcantara, Jean Blondel and Jean-Louis Thiébault. It is based on their recent book, Presidents and Democracy in Latin America, London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

The aim of this book is to study the effect of the presidential form of government on democracy in Latin America. The adoption of the presidential system, specifically the personality type of those who have occupied the presidential office, the leadership style of those presidents, and the type of government they have led, helps to explain the consolidation of democracy there.

In this study, six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) were chosen. They were chosen because they have successfully completed the process of democratic consolidation. Within each of the six countries, two presidents were chosen, reflecting broad trends in the political and electoral life of these countries. The goal was to select presidents belonging to one of the key political ‘families’ of the country, grouped under the banner of a political party, or who were representative of two particular approaches to the same problem in the same political family. These presidents were in office in the 1990s or the first decade of the 21st century. Some were liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing populists, socialists or social democrats, leaders of a political party or ‘outsiders,’ members of parliament or technocrats. They are:

  • Carlos Menem (July 1989-December 1999) and Nestor Kirchner (May 2003-December 2007) for Argentina.
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso (January 1995-December 2002) and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (January 2003-December 2010) for Brazil.
  • Patricio Aylwin (March 1990-March 1994) and Ricardo Lagos (March 2000-March 2006) for Chile.
  • Cesar Gaviria (September 1994-September 2004) and Alvaro Uribe (August 2002-August 2010) for Colombia.
  • Ernesto Zedillo (December 1994-November 2000) and Felipe Calderon (December 2006-December 2012) for Mexico.
  • Alan García (July 1985-July 1990 and July 2006 to July 2011) and Alberto Fujimori (July 1990-November 2000) for Peru.

In practice, these presidents were all center-right or center-left leaders. They were not members of the military, dictators, or revolutionaries. Right-wing populist presidents (Menem, Fujimori and Uribe) were chosen based on the idea that populists can be either on the right or on the left. However, García and Kirchner were chosen as moderate populists, claiming to be an Aprist and a Peronist respectively; both represent different periods. These choices make it possible to analyze processes in a consolidated democracy, but not in military regimes or in dominant party systems.

From the 1930s to the 1980s, these Latin American countries had a long period of instability. Argentina wavered between three types of political regimes: military dictatorship, a populist-corporatist regime, and restrictive democracy. From 1930 to the reestablishment of liberal democracy in 1983, there were six major military coups (1930, 1943, 1955, 1962, 1966 and 1976). There were eighteen presidents, and all those elected were overthrown except one, Peron, who died less than a year after his election. Governments in Peru have been more unstable than in any other South American country. Between 1945 and 1992, Peru’s government was civilian and constitutional almost 60 percent of the time, and a military regime 40 percent of the time. There were nearly two decades of military rule in Brazil and Chile. A military coup overthrew President Goulart in 1964 and began the longest period of authoritarian rule in Brazil’s history. With the collapse of democracy in September 1973, Chile was abruptly transformed from an open and participatory political system into a repressive and authoritarian one. General Pinochet was selected as the junta’s president by virtue of his position as leader of the oldest military branch. Unlike many of its continental neighbors, Colombia has avoided military rule, but there was intense violence between members of the two major parties in the late 1940s and 1950s, known as « la violenca » (the violence). A coalition government resulted from party negotiations. From 1958 to 1974, all governments in Colombia consisted of a bipartisan coalition. The main factors commonly associated with good prospects for democracy have long persisted in Mexico without producing full democracy.

Presidential regimes in Latin America are now a success, despite the pessimistic comments directed at this form of government. There are indeed manifest reasons why the Latin American presidential government should be considered a success. Latin American countries have overcome the fundamental dangers to which they were exposed. Although difficulties continue in a number of countries, presidential government in the region is no longer interrupted as it so frequently was in the past. Democratic development also mean that the number of countries regularly holding free and fair elections has increased. Executive governments are often elected by voters mobilized by clientelistic ties or by a candidate’s personality, rather than programmatic, appeal, all in the context of weak parties that are, moreover, rejected by citizens. The presidential elections of Zedillo in 1994 and Calderon in 2006 were intricate and controversial. Both involved critical moments of acute social tension and political instability that produced distinctive results.

Latin American governments have been influenced by the adoption of the presidential system. They set up institutions drawn largely from the US constitutional model. But Latin American presidents represent another type of executive. In the United States, there is a president, but there is no government. Latin America has a large number of presidential regimes characterised by a high degree of consistency and similarity. They constitute a type of intermediary regime, comprising many elements of presidential regimes, but with some of the features of parliamentary systems with coalition governments so as to ensure a majority in congress. For almost twenty years, Brazil has been considered an extraordinary case of « coalition presidentialism ». This explains why the president’s leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The Brazilian party system is highly fragmented. Dealing with loosely disciplined parties is thus a major problem for presidents because it makes the formation of stable congressional majorities much harder to achieve due to the excessive number of party factions. But there were also the broad multi-party coalition governments seen in Chile. Presidents of these countries have demonstrated leadership skills, arising from a good political performance and cohesive majority coalitions that support them: Aylwin and Lagos in Chile, Cardoso in Brazil. It is impossible to explain the stability of these coalitions without referring to the various mechanisms of coalition management and to presidential leadership. Most importantly, these three presidents facilitated the transition to democracy following the failure of authoritarian regimes in Chile and Brazil. They did not have the same authority as Lula, but they showed great skills of conciliation and moderation during the difficult transition period, namely the restoration and the consolidation of the democratic regime in Chile and Brazil.

This explains why the presidential leadership is important and has an impact on the nature of government. The key feature of the popular election of the president has been the inherent tendency of Latin American countries to emphasize the role of personalities in political life. Latin American political regimes have been markedly affected by patronage and clientelism; with the extension of the right to vote, elections were deeply influenced by these practices. The impact of personalities on the political life of Latin American countries has continued to this day, but it is less substantial. There is a decline in the extent to which Latin American presidentialism is personalized compared to the extent it had been previously. In the past personalization undoubtedly rendered presidential rule more chaotic and less rule-based. The fact that, on the whole, presidencies have tended to follow previously adopted rules during the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first century has surely resulted in the personalization of presidents being been less marked than in the past. Whereas presidents often enjoy high levels of popularity, these levels vary from president to president as well as over time in the case of each president. One president exhibited exceptional leadership boosted by his personal dominance: Lula. His performance was strengthened by the fact that he had an interesting experience as founder and president of the Workers’ Party. He is often regarded as one of the most popular politicians in the history of Brazil, boasting approval ratings over 80 percent and, at the time of his mandate, one of the most popular in the world.

A new type of personalised populism emerged with the appearance of formulas promoting demobilization and anti-political behavior. Fujimori in Peru, Menem in Argentina, and Uribe in Colombia. These three presidents have adopted a more or less authoritarian manner, being hostile to or even repressing the opposition. They used exceptional means, such as a state of emergency or government by decree, to implement their economic and social policies, as well as the fight against armed rebellions and drug trafficking. However, these exceptional means did not enable them to achieve the expected results. Their presidency was characterized by an authoritarianism and corruption. The populism of Carlos S. Menem in Argentina was strengthened by the political machine of the historic Justicialita Party. Carlos Menem governed within the framework of « peronism » and enjoyed remarkable popular support. Menem’s economic policy involved profound structural reforms, including the privatisation of public enterprises, economic deregulation and the opening up of the economy to foreign trade and investment. This policy created the conditions for monetary stability and remained in force after Menem left office in 1999 and until the crisis of December 2001. However, the policies of the Menem era led to a deepening of social inequality and a rise in unemployment. However he was considered a true peronist. He was the main player in the political regime, with a negative view of parliament and the judiciary. Menem’s leadership has been labelled neopopulist and delegative due to the continuous use of unilateral measures and emergency legislation. It was of a different nature to the populism of Fujimori in Peru. Fujimori sought to distance his government from politics, disdaining the social and/or political mobilization that could have been mounted through some movement or party. Fujimori outlined a strategy in which criticism of the traditional parties was a part of his discourse. He decided to confront the political class instead of building bridges with it. Instead, he expressly renounced such mobilizations, and depoliticized all the other political bodies. Uribe presented himself as the saviour of a Colombia that seemed to be on the brink of destruction. He portrayed himself as a messiah who would redeem Colombia of all its evils and built a strategy around certain core components. He adopted a radical discourse against armed groups and proposed resolving the internal conflict through war and the subjugation of guerrillas. He withdrew from the Liberal Party, to which he had belonged throughout his political life. He spoke out against the parties and the political class despite having belonged to both and adhering to their norms and rules throughout his political career.

Some presidents demonstrated weaker leadership skills (Kirchner in Argentine, Gaviria in Colombia, Zedillo and Calderon in Mexico). They came to power without holding important positions in the governments headed by their predecessors. They have become second-rate candidates, indirectly because of events that have upset or disrupted the appointment of the first office holder. They have never been able to exercise strong authority, muddling through in the face of significant obstacles and divisions.

The fact that the presidential system had become ‘established’ in Latin America by the second half of the 20th century does not mean that these countries have not suffered serious problems. In the 1990s, democracy spread across the region, even if Colombia, Brazil and Mexico experienced marked political violence, the state being unable to maintain order and public security. What is clear is that, in the context of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil in particular, one very serious problem was identified: violence, and this problem affected the regular development of the presidential system in these three countries. The amount of violence that has affected Colombia has been huge, to the extent that it is surprising that the regular conduct of the electoral process has not been prevented from taking place. The policies of the two Colombian presidents, Gaviria and Uribe, were fundamentally different, the first having pursued the ‘war effort’ against the rebels, whereas the second attempted (unsuccessfully) to find a peaceful solution: his successor was able to make substantial progress in that direction, however. In Colombia it has thus been possible, rather surprisingly, to maintain the main electoral rules of the liberal democratic process, although, at least in a substantial part of the country, confrontation has taken in effect the form of a civil war.

In recent decades, presidential elections have taken place regularly in Latin America. Certainly, some presidents have been more popular than others. Some have been unable to conclude their terms. Others have gradually learned to adjust to the particularities of the institutional system. Overall, though, the presidential form of government has gradually begun to function smoothly. The fact that presidents have tended to follow democratic rules has resulted from the presence of patterns of parliamentary presidentialism. In spite of serious problems (political violence, corruption), the emergence of these tools (coalitional presidentialism, the (de-) institutionalization of party systems, the internal organization of the executive branch) must be seen as having constituted the key institutional development of democracy in Latin America.

Honduras – Disputed Presidential Election Result

On November 26, Honduras went to the polls to elect a new president. The main contenders were Juan Orlando Hernández, the incumbent President of Honduras, from the conservative and right-leaning Partido Nacional, and Salvador Nasrilla, a former sports journalist, commonly known as Mr. Television from the Alianza de Oposición contra la Dictadura, a coalition that encompasses the left-leaning party of Manuel Zeleya, the former Honduran president ousted in a coup in 2009, and his wife, Xiomara Castro, Libertad y Refundación, and the centre-left, Partido Innovación y Unidad.

According to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) in Honduras, on the day after the election, it looked as if Nasrilla was going to claim victory. With 57 per cent of the votes counted, Nasrilla had managed to gain 45 per cent of the vote, giving him a clear five point lead over Hernández. Following this update, the count then seemed to slow dramatically, if not completely stop and after a somewhat suspicious hiatus, counting resumed and as of today,  according to the TSE, Hernández leads the race with 42.98 per cent of the vote compared to 41.38 per cent for Nasrilla. No official winner has yet been declared.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition claim that the government is trying to steal the election. Nasrilla and his coalition have called for a complete vote recount and if the TSE refuses to do this, then Nasrilla has proposed a second round run-off between him and Hernández. There is currently no provision in Honduras’ constitution to allow for a second round run-off (presidential elections are first past the past).

Hernández came to power following the December 2013 elections, which saw him defeat the left-leaning wife, Xiomara Castro, of former president, Manuel Zelaya, ousted in a coup in 2009 by pro-military conservative factions. Hernández and his party were accused of embezzling over US$90 million from the state social security agency, which was then used to fund Hernández’s victory in the 2013 election, as part of a larger scandal involving the state agency, El Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social (IHSS), which provides one in every eight Hondurans with healthcare, that has seen over US$200 million embezzled from its coffers over the last few years. These allegations gave rise to protests in Tegucigalpa calling for his resignation. Hernández has also been criticized for being overly authoritarian but despite all of this, he has remained popular, with recent polls from September suggesting an approval rating of 56 per cent.

While president, Hernández also managed to introduce a new constitutional amendment, allowing for consecutive presidential election, the very same proposal that resulted in the removal of Zelaya, a coup that Hernández supported. Since 2013, a third party, Partido Libertad y Refundación, the party of Xiomara Castro, has held a third of the seats in the house, challenging the traditional conservative and oligarchic two-party system.

A victory for Nasrilla would completely upend the status quo.

This is not the first time that Honduars has been mired in allegations of electoral fraud. In the 2013 election, Xiomara Castro, after initially claiming victory, contested the result. This time, it seems that supporters of the left will not allow this victory to remain unchallenged. There have been hundreds of protests, in which three people have died so far, forcing the government to implement a night time curfew. The police force in Honduras have now announced that they will not leave their barracks until the political crisis has been resolved and while the TSE have agreed to a partial recount, whatever happens, it is clear that this controversy is far from over.

Chile – Presidential Election Goes to Run-Off

On Sunday, Chile went to the polls for the first round of their presidential election. Voters also had to elect all 155 lower house deputies and half of Chile’s senators. The former billionaire, center-right president of Chile, Sebastián Piñera (2010-214), despite a clear lead in public opinion polls, was forced into a second round run-off due to a late surge by candidates on the left.

Piñera, with his right-leaning Chile Vamos coalition, won 36.4 per cent of the vote, while the left-leaning representative of the incumbent coalition, Alejandro Guillier, came second with 22.7 per cent and Beatriz Sánchez Muñoz, also on the left, came third with 20.3 per cent of the vote. The right wing candidate of the Unión Demócrata Independiente, José Antonio Kast, came fourth with 7.9 per cent.

Guillier a former news anchor, is the candidate of the centre-left Nueva Mayoría governing coalition led by current incumbent Michelle Bachelet and during the election campaign, he pledged to continue the reform agenda of the Bachelet administration. Sánchez, also a former journalist, represented the left wing Frente Amplio coalition, a party that emerged from the Chilean student movement of 2011. Sánchez ran on a platform that emphasized redistribution and higher taxes for the wealthy. This was the first time that the Frente Amplio has competed in a presidential election.

Piñera’s victory reflects divisions among the left in Chile. The Partido Demócrata Cristiano decided to leave the governing leftist coalition and contest the election on their own for the first time. Their candidate, Carolina Goic, received 5.8 per cent of the vote. It is also a product of  the falling popularity of the current incumbent, Michelle Bachelet. Her popularity has plummeted a long way from the eighty plus rating that she enjoyed towards the end of her first term in office. Her administration has been beset by a number of corruption scandals, one of which involved one of Chile’s largest corporate entities, Penta Group, and the right-leaning Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI). More significantly however, one of the scandals involved the President’s own son, Sebastián Dávalos. Dávalos was accused of using his political influence to arrange a US$10 million bank loan for his wife’s firm, Caval, which then used the funds to purchase land in central Chile that was promptly resold for a profit. The national banking regulator cleared Dávalos of any wrongdoing, but Congress launched an investigative committee to explore the allegations.

The emergence of the Frente Amplio, an anti-establishment coalition, was partly a response to this corruption crisis.

The low turnout at 46.7 per cent probably also helped Piñera. A run-off is now scheduled for December 17. The big question of course will be whether the supporters of Sánchez will weigh in behind the incumbent candidate, Guillier. Sánchez has been highly critical of Piñera in the past. A right-leaning victory in Chile would continue the recent swing to the right in other South American countries, including, Brazil, Peru and Argentina.