Approximately three hundred and fifty million voters all over Latin America and the Caribbean participated in elections last year.

Eleven countries were scheduled to conduct their general elections, and seven (among them the titans Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia) were resolved to change their presidents — and the complete political panorama of the region.

The super cycle of elections in entire Latin America took off in February and campaigns, and polling activities characterized the whole year. Costa Rica was the first country to hold its general elections in February 2018, closely followed by the legislative elections held in El Salvador, and then Colombia.

Based on the outcomes of these mixed election processes, it can be said the state of democracy in the region is commendable as there were few cases of election malpractices and post-election violence. Other than in Costa Rica and Brazil where the presidential run-off was required, other voting processes went on rapidly and efficiently, and the continent oversaw smooth transitions of power from a variety of political parties and ideologies.

Some good news for regional democracy

  1. The United Nations and other international observers’ bodies, commended the EMBs of the respective nations for the job well done. So far, the international community has applauded the countries that conducted their elections by the constitution terming its democratic maturity.
  2. Gender equality. According to a report by the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, in Latin America, “there are now 15 female vice presidents and the region is home to three of the four countries with the greatest proportion of women in Congress. In Brazil, voters elected 50 percent more women to Congress than in the last general elections. In Mexico, women achieved near gender parity in the legislature. In Colombia, Duque named Marta Lucía Ramírez as the country’s first female vice president and appointed a gender-balanced cabinet. The Alvarado administration did the same in Costa Rica, as well as now having the first Afro-descendant woman vice president.”
  3. On a sound note, Cuba went through a smooth and amicable transition from the former President Raul Castro who stepped down in April 2018 and was succeeded by the then first Vice President, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Although Castro will remain the Secretary-General of the Communist Party; a position that would entitle him substantial power and influence in the island, the political arrangement finished without political wrangles as it has been the case in other parts of the world under similar authoritarian regimes.

What to expect in 2019?

Two of the biggest economies in Latin America chose in 2018 presidents who will lead their countries into the opposite end of their traditional political spectrum. In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro broke the Workers’ Party four-election winning streak. In Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador became the first president in three decades to win more than half of ballots cast and changed the expectations of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party. Political analysts have agreed that “if 2018 was the year of elections, 2019 would be the year in which we will see how these new leaders shape their countries.”

2019 is expected to be a busy but smooth year for other Latin American countries which are set to hold their general elections. There will be presidential races at least in six Central and South American nations, namely Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and Uruguay. We will keep an eye on election management in the region and how topics such as disinformation; anti-corruption and security discourses; voter rejection of the traditional political establishment; and the regional economy will play a role in the election processes.

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Latin America elections: A look back and what to expect this year
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