Tomorrow Venezuela will be electing a president but this presumed travesty does not deserve serious editorial analysis – ever since 2015 (when President Nicolás Maduro somewhat surprisingly allowed the parliamentary triumph of the opposition to stand, only to end up usurping the legislative branch with a handpicked Constituent Assembly) the electoral process in Venezuela has been fraught with fraud and there is no reason to think that tomorrow’s vote, oportunistically pushed ahead a year to exploit opposition disarray and give Maduro another term, will be any exception. Instead there might be more point in seeing tomorrow’s vote as a curtain-raiser for three key presidential elections in the region this year (with all due respect to Costa Rica and Paraguay, who have respectively picked Carlos Alvarado and Mario Benítez, both ruling party candidates, in the last three months).
Colombia, Brazil and Mexico (the only three countries in Latin America with larger populations than Argentina) will be electing new presidents on May 27 (next weekend already), July 1 and October 7 (with October 28 as the run-off date) respectively. While presidential re-election is a certainty in Venezuela tomorrow, it is not even an option in these three countries (unless deeply unpopular Brazilian President Michel Temer has a sudden rush of blood).
Ever since democracy returned to the region between 1983 and 1990, there have been various years with these clusters of important elections and while the results have varied, the process has always been more or less the same. These elections are invariably preceded by a flurry of opinion polls trying to measure the response of the electorate to the campaign rhetoric while afterwards the pundits ponder whether the results represent a regional shift to the left or right or a triumph for continuity or a protest vote. Above everything else, in all this period memories of military dictatorship were strong enough to place the value of democratic elections beyond question.
This has changed. While the electoral coercion in Venezuela (where the Carnet de la Patria identification documents are also virtual ration-books, condemning holders to starvation if they do not vote in elections from which most opposition candidates have been excluded) is an extreme example, the truth is that the voters in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are not very much more enthusiastic. Among the reasons for this disenchantment disgust with corruption across the region springs to the surface but there are others. In this 21st century social networks and all-absorbing mobile telephones have replaced most forms of community life, undermining political parties. Furthermore, there is a widespread feeling that while the citizen votes every four years, the markets vote evey day (Argentina’s recent experience would be a good example).
Those accustomed to two-party systems (Democrats versus Republicans, Conservative versus Labour, etc.) will search for them in vain in these elections. Instead all four elections have the common denominator of mostly revolving around a single figure – President Maduro, the veteran populist AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) in Mexico and ex- presidents Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Sila and Alvaro Uribe in Brazil and Colombia. Since all four men have rather more past than future, this shows how much easier it is to look back than ahead – nobody can offer a future vision to counter the confusion with which we face what a rapidly changing world will bring.
We could give a more conventional preview of these important elections, listing the main candidates and issues and pooling the forecasts of all the opinion polls (more than ever) but it would not tell us much – any more than the margin of Maduro’s victory tomorrow. How people will vote remains up in the air when the very meaning of elections has fallen into doubt.