Latin America’s Presidential Elections: Are Mexico, Brazil and Colombia Ready for Anti-Establishment Candidates?

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Next year, critical elections in Latin America's three most populous countries—Colombia, Mexico and Brazil—are likely to reveal a distemper stemming from citizen disgust with a mix of corruption scandals, mediocre economies, unremitting violence and a largely discredited political class. All three presidential contests are wide open and ripe for anti-establishment challengers.

The stakes are high, and the outcomes in 2018—which directly affect more than two-thirds of all Latin Americans—could well shape the region’s policy and political direction in coming years. The choices facing voters are not, however, best viewed through a left-right prism. The proverbial pendulum won’t be swinging; the tide will not be shifting. Rather, the landscape is complex, with each country expressing dissatisfaction based on its own particular situation and the electoral options offered. Still, what is striking is that in all three countries the public outcry against elites and demands for cleaner politics are on the rise, while at the same time the terrain is fertile for wild cards that could well upset the established order.

In Brazil, the region’s largest country, next October’s election will take place in the midst of unprecedented corruption scandals. The politics have been particularly tumultuous. In 2016, former President Dilma Rousseff was impeached on charges of fiscal mismanagement. Although her successor, the former Vice President Michel Temer, has presided over an incipient economic recovery, he is viewed as seriously corrupt and stands at a mere 3 percent approval. A once wildly popular, former two-term president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva—who today leads the polls for 2018—has already been convicted on corruption charges and is awaiting appeal, and that has a chance of barring him from the race. The most potentially destabilizing candidate is federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro—second to Lula in current polls—an extreme nationalist with militaristic leanings and a brutal stand in dealing with rising crime and a history of misogynistic, homophobic remarks.

Mexico’s politics are also unsettled. In Latin America’s second-largest country, public confidence in the three chief political parties—including the incumbent president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Revolutionary Institutional Party, or PRI—is at rock-bottom levels. Most Mexicans are angry about pervasive corruption, unabated violence, impunity and—despite promising reforms—still flat, disappointing economic growth. Polls show that the main beneficiary of such a sour mood is two-time presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, who heads the Morena party and whose populist rhetoric, aimed at the country’s elites and stubbornly high levels of inequality, has resonance. Although the field of candidates remains undefined and there is a long way to go before July’s elections, AMLO could win the presidency with just a plurality, which would likely heighten uncertainty in Mexico.  


Read the full article in Newsweek

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