This Year's Presidential Elections in Latin America

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Voters wait in line to cast their vote in a presidential election runoff at a polling station outside in San Salvador March 9, 2014 (Henry Romero/Courtesy Reuters).

Voters wait in line to cast their vote in a presidential election runoff at a polling station outside in San Salvador March 9, 2014 (Henry Romero/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this week, Salvadorans headed to the polls to cast their ballots in a presidential runoff election, since on February 2 the candidates failed to reach the 50 percent threshold to avoid a second round. In the runoff’s lead up, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, a former guerrilla commander and the current vice president from the ruling party, looked poised for an easy win over his closest opponent Norman Quijano from the conservative Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA). But with the final ballot count separating the candidates by some 0.2 percent of the votes and with allegations of fraud, it seems that the protests and debates surrounding this election are far from over.

The Costa Rican elections were also held on February 2 and similarly, were pushed into a run-off scheduled for April 6. With second place finisher Johnny Araya’s (from the ruling National Liberation Party) recent exit from the race, Leftist Luis Guillermo Solís’s (from the Citizens’ Action Party) victory is all but assured. While neither of these two elections are yet resolved, there are others on the horizon in Latin America.

On May 4, Panamanians will elect their president for the next five years. Current President Ricardo Martinelli’s time in office is coming to an end, at least for now, given Panama’s restriction that presidents must wait two terms before trying again for office. Though Martinelli and his conservative Democratic Change (CD) party led Panama through a period of extraordinary 8 percent (on average) economic growth and declining crime, the country’s stark income inequality (which I talk about in this blog post) combined with shifting political alliances, could provide headwinds for the party’s candidate José Domingo Arias.

On May 25, Colombians will head to the ballot boxes to decide whether or not to reelect President Juan Manuel Santos. As of now, Santos’s odds look fairly good—garnering 26 percent of the vote in a hypothetical “next-day election” scenario; 19 percent more than his nearest rival, Óscar Iván Zuluaga of the Democratic Center party, 18 percent more than Enrique Peñalosa of the Green Alliance party, and far above the more recent entrant to the race, Marta Lucía Ramírez from the Conservative Party. Santos  is staking much of his campaign on the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (even as Colombians become increasingly pessimistic over its success), and he will also face tough questioning over his economic policies and subsequent handling of rural protests (that pushed his approval ratings down to 25 percent last August). Still, his popular support has rebounded—up to near 40 percent in March—and this momentum, without a strong challenger, will likely take him back to the Casa de Nariño.

October brings presidential elections in Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay.

In Brazil, most expect President Dilma Rousseff of the Worker’s Party (PT) to win reelection against Aecio Neves (from the PSBD party) and Eduardo Campos (from the PSB party). Still, with economic growth faltering, worries about the coming World Cup (with latest reports questioning both the sporting event’s expense and the country’s readiness), and still vivid memories of last summer’s widespread protests, a unified challenger could make the race interesting.

That same day Bolivians will also be casting their ballots. Evo Morales is up for his third term, after a constitutional amendment in 2009 allowed for reelection and a 2013 constitutional court decision decided that his first term did not count toward the two term limit (since it began before the new Constitution). With twelve parties and a crowded race, no serious challenger has emerged to take on Morales. Still, questions remain whether the president’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) can gain an absolute majority—potentially frustrating any major policy changes.

Uruguay’s famously spartan President Jose Mujica will bid goodbye to a presidential palace in which he never lived. The frontrunner for his position is former president and Broad Front colleague Tabaré Vázquez, who left office in 2010 with an approval rating of over 60 percent. A Vázquez victory would mean continuity for the country and a continuation of Mujica’s policies, such as the country’s marijuana regulation and renewable energy promotion.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.