Tag Archives: Costa Rica

Farida Jalalzai – Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?

This is a guest post by Farida Jalalzai, the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma State University

In his article “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout” New York Times contributor Simon Romero asserts “Up and down the Americas, with the notable exception of the United States, women are soaring into the highest political realms” (Romero 2013). In exploring this development making headlines, my book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? (Routledge 2016) analyzes four recent women presidents also known as presidentas: Michelle Bachelet (Chile, 2006-2010; 2014-), Cristina Fernández (Argentina, 2007-2015), Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica, 2010-2014) and Dilma Rousseff (Brazil, 2011-2016).  Given the powers presidentialism affords presidents, women’s increasing tendency to play these very strong political roles present a puzzle.  Since institutional factors account heavily for women’s success and presidentialism appears the most difficult system for women to break through (Jalalzai 2013), how can we explain women’s ability to gain the presidency in Latin America?  Historically, women leaders in presidential systems (particularly women directly elected by the public) were generally limited to relatives of male leaders and this proved to be a personal factor linking women presidents worldwide, including those from Latin America. With the election of Michelle Bachelet in Chile, these traditional patterns appeared to be shifting.  What conditions, therefore, allowed for a broadening of routes, beyond family ties, for women in Latin America?  While an important question, I was also interested in the larger implications the election of powerful women posed. Once in office, do the presidentas make positive changes on behalf of women? My findings were primarily based on responses derived from over 60 elite interviews conducted between 2011 and 2014 in these countries. Respondents included political elites and experts of diverse partisan leanings such as cabinet ministers, legislators, party leaders, consultants from think tanks and academics, and a sitting president (Chinchilla)..  I supplemented interviews with data from public opinion polls, media and scholarly analyses, and information from governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In addressing my first question, I found that all presidentas benefitted from centralized and exclusive presidential nomination procedures (see also Hinojosa 2012). Not only were they essentially handpicked by their predecessors, their publics’ were largely supportive of the outgoing president’s policies.  While benefitting from continuity, with the exception of Fernández (as the former first lady, the only political wife in the group) they did not enjoy top placement or independent bases within their parties.  As such, their nominations were perceived as somewhat surprising and occasionally met with party resistance.  Yet, their outsider statuses likely explain why they were viewed as appropriate successors in the first place.  Critically, Chinchilla, Bachelet, and Rousseff also campaigned on how they would change the face of politics.  The combined approach of change and stability proved fruitful.

Regarding their impact, I examined three types of potential effects of their leadership on women:

  1. Appointing more women to political offices
  2. Positively influencing levels of political engagement and participation, political orientations, and support for women in politics among the general public
  3. Supporting policies on behalf of women

Throughout, I compared women to their male predecessors.  Because of their strong ties to the outgoing presidents, we might have expected the presidentas to behave fairly similarly.  Yet, as women, they may have done more to empower women than their male counterparts. My analysis identified mixed evidence.   While presidents Bachelet and Rousseff prioritized appointing more women than did their male counterparts, this did not seem to hold true for either Chinchilla or Fernández. In analyzing data from representative surveys and from my interviews, findings confirmed key differences between the presidentas.  More positive shifts in public opinion and participation were linked to Rousseff’s presidency (my book only covered her first term—it does did not account her cataclysmic fall from grace and subsequent impeachment) while Bachelet’s showed little consistent or significant effects.  In interviews, respondents easily identified positive influences Rousseff’s and Bachelet’s presidencies offered.  In contrast, both the representative surveys and interviews concerning Chinchilla and Fernández regularly indicated backsliding.  Support for women’s policies proved most prevalent in Bachelet’s presidencies.  Rousseff, to a lesser degree, also made women’s issues an important part of her first term.  While many programs were extensions of Lula’s, Rousseff added more depth to existing programs.  She also connected seemingly gender neutral policies to women, particularly poor women.  We see little prioritization of women’s issues, in contrast, during Fernández’s and Chinchilla’s presidencies, affirming the variability in positive effects of presidentas on women.

Three years after the article quoted above was published, another journalist for the New York Times, Jonathan Gilbert, posed the following question: “What has happened to the powerful women of South America?”  The previous fervor had given way to disappointment as the presidentas analyzed here encountered plummeting approval ratings, much of which is related to economic travails, and nearly all were ensnared in corruption scandals. While this book suggested mixed effects of women presidents, I wonder if women face greater scrutiny for their lackluster performances or alleged engagement in inappropriate behavior. These remain open questions, but ones worth pursuing in future investigations as enhanced scrutiny shapes women’s abilities to exercise power generally and behalf of women specifically. These questions will be even more salient with the United States on the brink of electing its first woman president. As Hillary Clinton is a former First Lady, her path to power is not very puzzling.  Still, no doubt this historic moment will soon give way to investigations regarding what Clinton’s presidency offers women and whether she too receives undue scrutiny because of her gender.

References

Gilbert, Jonathan. “South America’s Powerful Women Are Embattled. Is Gender a Factor?” The New York Times. May 14, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/15/world/americas/dilma-rousseff-michelle-bachelet-cristina-fernandez-de-kirchner.html?_r=0

Hinojosa, Magda. 2012. Selecting Women, Electing Women: Political Representation and Candidate Selection in Latin America. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2016. Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties? New York: Routledge Press.

Jalalzai, Farida. 2013.  Shattered, Cracked or Firmly Intact? Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide.  New York: Oxford University Press.

Romero, Simon. “On Election Day, Latin America Willingly Trades Machismo for Female Clout.” The New York Times. December 14, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/world/americas/on-election-day-latin-america-willingly-trades-machismo-for-female-clout.html?_r=0

Farida Jalalzai is the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science. Dr. Jalalzai’s research analyzes the representation and behavior of women and minorities in politics and the role of gender in the political arena. Her work focuses on women national leaders. Her first book Shattered, Cracked and Firmly Intact: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide (Oxford University Press 2013, updated paperback 2016) offers a comprehensive analysis of women, gender, and national leadership positions. Her second book, Women Presidents of Latin America: Beyond Family Ties?  (Routledge 2016) examines several case studies of the behavior of women national leaders including presidents Laura Chinchilla (Costa Rica), President Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), Cristina Fernández (Argentina). Her current projects include a co-edited volume “Measuring Women’s Political Empowerment Worldwide” (with Amy C. Alexander and Catherine Bolzendahl, under contrast at Palgrave) a co-authored book Senhora Presidenta: Women’s Representation in Brazil during Dilma Rousseff’s Presidency (with Pedro dos Santos), and  “Blood is Thicker than Water: Family Ties to Political Power Worldwide,” a global analysis of the prevalence of family connections among executive political office holders (with Meg Rincker).

Costa Rica – The Left Likely to Win One-Horse Presidential Run-Off

Yesterday, the Costa Rican electorate went to the polls to vote in what was probably the most predictable presidential run-off election in recent times. It seems almost certain that the next president of Costa Rica will be Luis Guillermo Solís, of the center-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC). Solís, a former academic and diplomat, capitalized on popular discontent with inequality and corruption to unexpectedly clinch the first round election in early February. His victory in the second round became almost guaranteed after his rival, Johnny Araya, of the incumbent centrist party, the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), stopped campaigning in March.

Araya, who only lost the first round election by less than one percentage point, decided to stop campaigning after a devastating poll released by the University of Costa put him over 40 points behind his rival. Within hours of the poll, Araya, struggling to finance his campaign and dogged by allegations of corruption while mayor of San Jose, publicly announced he was no longer going to contest the election.

The Costa Rican constitution however, prohibits presidential candidates from dropping out of the second round of a presidential election (they can drop out of the first round), so Araya’s name remained on the ballot, and his beleaguered party, the PLN, continued to campaign on his behalf. The legal requirement for candidates to contest the second round of presidential elections was incorporated into the 1949 constitution primarily because of irregularities during the 1913 and 1932 elections. In 1913, after all candidates withdrew their names from the contest, the national assembly choose the unelected Alfredo González Flores and who, lacking a popular mandate, was overthrown by a coup less than three years later. In 1932, following Manuel Castro’s renouncement of his second-round candidacy, Ricardo Jiménez became president after the first round with less than the required 50 per cent threshold, plunging the country into discord, which some have argued eventually led to the 1948 Civil War.[1]

This does not mean that Solís will have everything his own way. Costa Rica has a sizable debt overhang (roughly half of GDP), and Solís has promised to hold out on tax increases and increase social spending. Any legislative agenda however, will prove difficult. His party, the PAC, has only 13 of the 57 seats in Congress, and the Costa Rican president has relatively weak executive power.[2] What is more, given that many consider this election a foregone conclusion, turnout is likely to be a problem, weakening Solís’ mandate and undermining his political legitimacy.

*UPDATE: According to the Costa Rican Electoral Tribunal, with 92.6 per cent of all votes counted, Solís has won the election in a landslide victory. He  has recieved 77.85 per cent of all votes cast.  Asbtentionism was 43.29 per cent, the hightest ever registered in Costa Rica. Nontheless, Solís has some claims to political legitimacy. He recieved just over 1.3 million votes (of an electorate of 3.1 million).


[1] For more, see Steven Palmer and Iván Molina (eds.) The Costa Rica Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press.

[2] See Mainwaring and Shugart (1997). Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

Costa Rican Presidential Election to be decided in Run-off

Early results from Costa Rica’s presidential election on Sunday indicate that a second round run-off election, to be held on April 6, is now inevitable.

With 82 per cent of all votes counted, Luis Guillermo Solís, of the centre-left Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC), has 30.9 per cent of the votes, while Johnny Araya of the incumbent centrist party, the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), has 29.6 per cent and José María Villalta, of the left-leaning Frente Amplio, has 17.2 per cent. Given it appears highly unlikely that any of the three leading candidates will garner the 40 per cent of votes needed for an outright victory, a run-off election is now unavoidable.

Luis Solís’ surge in votes is somewhat unexpected, given that polls immediately before the election suggested that Johnny Araya was the front-runner. Araya, former mayor of San Jose and the candidate of the current incumbent, Laura Chinchilla (who was constitutionally prohibited from running for a consecutive second term), had tried hard to distance himself from the beleaguered Chinchilla, whose government had been beset by a series of corruption scandals. However, an investigation into embezzlement while mayor of San Jose suggested to voters that he represented more of the same, and his popularity was further eroded by a number of gaffes throughout the course of the campaign. For example, during an interview he was unable to provide the correct price for milk.

Luis Solís, an academic, former official of the foreign ministry and advisor to Oscar Arias, ran on an anti-corruption platform, which saw him launch frequent broadsides at the Chinchilla government, the PLN and Johnny Araya. Solís was previously a member of the PLN but in 2005, critical of party irregularities and repeated corruption scandals, he left the party. In 2009, he joined the PAC. A second round run-off should suit Solís, as he should be more likely than Araya to pick up the votes of José Villalta, the other left-leaning candidate.

Thirteen candidates took part in this presidential election, a clear indication of the increasing fragmentation and weakening of the Costa Rican party system, which began to splinter following the introduction of economic reforms under the PLN in the 1990s.[1] Whoever wins the second round run-off will have some difficulties in governing, given the relative legislative weakness of the executive office,[2] and the current multi-party system.[3] The collapse of Latin American party systems, and the subsequent implications for governance, has become a frequent theme for this blog. Watch this space on April 6th.


[1] See Roberts (2013). Market Reform, Programmatic (De)alignment, and Party System Stability in Latin America. Comparative Political Studies, 46: 1422-1452.

[2] See Mainwaring and Shugart (1997). Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America. Cambridge University Press.

[3] On Sunday, Costa Rica also elected 57 legislators.