Latin America’s Anti-Incumbent Wave Will End in Tears


Every time a Latin American country goes to the polls, some analysts suggest that the region is taking a turn to the left or right, depending on who wins the election. A closer look at recent election results—especially those that have occurred since the pandemic began to ravage the region—tells a much simpler story: People are consistently voting against incumbents.

More than a turn to the left, Latin American voters seem to be voting to bring the state back in. With an already sizable and, as the pandemic has further exposed, largely inefficient and often corrupt public sector, the choice voters are making is likely to end up disappointing them. The newly elected will face the same hurdles, fueling greater discontent with democracy and frustration with their governments.

With several upcoming elections in the region—including presidential contests in Chile and Honduras and a midterm election in Argentina—the mood of the electorate should be worrisome, especially for the right-wing ruling coalition in Chile and for the left-wing government in Argentina. And though they will have more time to recover (their presidential elections are scheduled for May and October 2022, respectively), Colombian President Iván Duque (who cannot run for re-election) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should also be concerned with the growing anti-incumbent sentiment in the region.

Ahead of Chile’s November presidential election, it is true that right-wing presidential candidate Sebastián Sichel is doing better than expected in polls. He surprisingly won the primary for the right-wing coalition by defeating a man who had led the polls for over two years, Joaquín Lavín, a former mayor and twice previous presidential candidate—a sign that among right-wing voters, the dominant mood was also in favor of fresh faces and a new message. Yet, Sichel will find it more difficult to disassociate himself from the unpopular outgoing president Sebastián Piñera. After all, Sichel served in Piñera’s cabinet and his association with the government will be duly exploited by both far-right and left-wing rivals in the upcoming presidential campaign. Just as right-wing parties face an uphill battle to retain their 40% share of seats in congress, Sichel will need to struggle to distance himself from Piñera to become a viable candidate.

To read more, visit Americas Quarterly.

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