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In Brazil, Every Vote Counts

October 24, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

Misael Gomes stood under the hot sun in downtown Curitiba, sweat running down his back as he gathered with hundreds of Partido dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Party—PT) supporters awaiting President Dilma Rousseff as she made an October 17 campaign stop ahead of this Sunday’s election.

“We’re doing our work,” Gomes said to me, “we’re fighting hard for this." Rousseff is fighting for her political life in Brazil’s closest election in recent history, and an army of supporters like Gomes is determined to see her reelected to another four-year term. He’s the type of relentless politico who sends several emails a day arguing that opposition candidate Aécio Neves—of the center-right Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB)—would be disastrous for the social programs expanded under Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

But this scene in Curitiba would never have happened if this were the United States. Curitiba is the capital of a state that voted overwhelmingly for Neves in the first round of the election on October 5. If Brazil operated under the Electoral College system of the U.S., campaigning anywhere in PSDB-controlled Paraná state would be a waste of resources for either presidential candidate because Neves would already be virtually guaranteed all of the state’s electoral votes.

“Your system is a bit outdated, isn’t it?” Gomes said to me after I’d spent several minutes attempting to explain the U.S. Electoral College and why four U.S. presidents have been elected to the White House despite losing the popular vote.

Increasingly, Americans appear to agree with Gomes. Earlier this year, New York became the 11th state (including the District of Columbia) to approve an initiative called the National Popular Vote Compact that would effectively nullify the Electoral College by automatically awarding all state electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. If several more states sign on, the U.S. could be electing its president Brazil-style as soon as 2016. A Gallup Poll conducted last year found that 63 percent of the U.S. population supported abolishing the Electoral College.

For now, however, U.S. presidential candidates are unlikely to waste their time campaigning in Curitiba’s or Paraná’s U.S. equivalents. In the 2012 presidential election, for example, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama made a collective 38 campaign stops in Colorado, 60 in Florida, and 79 in Ohio—all important swing states—while never visiting the solidly Democratic states of Vermont and Delaware or the solidly Republican states of Arizona and Kansas.

Voter turnout also tends to be higher in U.S. swing states than in solidly blue or red states, where the recipient of the Electoral College votes is essentially known beforehand. Nationwide turnout for the 2012 U.S. presidential election was about 60 percent, compared to 80 percent for Brazil’s first round vote.

Voter turnout is also higher in Brazil because voting is mandatory. Failure to cast a ballot can lead to a small fine and difficulty obtaining state documents, which is fodder for Gomes to call all his friends and family this week urging them to avoid trouble with the law and to cast a ballot for the PT. Rousseff has pulled ahead in polls for the first time in weeks, with surveys published October 22 by Ibope and Datafolha giving her an 8-point and 6-point lead, respectively.

“We cannot let the tucanos win,” Gomes said, referring to the PSDB by their long-beaked mascot. “People will change their mind [on their vote]. They tell me they changed their mind...but maybe just to please me.”

Tags: President Dilma Rousseff, Aécio Neves, Brazil 2014 elections

Dinamismo en los Partidos Políticos de El Salvador

October 23, 2014

by Julio Rank Wright

Los salvadoreños nos encontramos, de nuevo, a escasos cinco meses de una nueva contienda electoral. Mientras muchos aún no terminan de recuperarse de la resaca de la última elección presidencial, otros esperan con ansias la llegada de los próximos comicios.

Generalmente, en épocas cercanas a elecciones es cuando muchos empezamos a prestarle atención a los partidos políticos. Preguntas y conversaciones sobre el estado actual, la evolución, involución y hasta explosión del sistema de partidos políticos se escuchan con frecuencia. Comentarios sobre “las primarias a medias” o “los dedazos” no dejan de despertar pasiones.

A la luz de los procesos internos que cada uno de los partidos políticos del país (grandes y pequeños así como nuevos y tradicionales) ha estado llevando a cabo, vale la pena enfatizar la importancia de un sistema de partidos políticos modernos y dinámicos para el país. El Instituto Nacional Demócrata para Asuntos Internacionales (NDI por sus siglas en inglés) tiene más de dos décadas trabajando con partidos políticos en más de 50 países del mundo.

Con el correr del tiempo, el NDI ha identificado una serie de mejores prácticas de partidos efectivos. Un partido político efectivo debe considerar tres elementos claves: la democracia interna, la transparencia y el alcance a nuevos sectores.

Los tres ejes de mejores prácticas deben verse a la luz de los procesos que está viviendo cada uno de los partidos del país, especialmente los mayoritarios. Hace unos días, el alcalde de San Salvador, Norman Quijano, desistió de competir por la reelección en el 2015. ARENA le sustituyo por Edwin Zamora, la figura emblemática de la renovación del pensamiento del partido. Las razones detrás de la renuncia del Alcalde Quijano son irrelevantes, porque en el fondo, lo que el acontecimiento ilustra es el dinamismo y las corrientes internas dentro de ARENA.

A muchos no les gustó la manera como la cúpula del FMLN se decantó por su candidato a alcalde a San Salvador, Nayib Bukele. Pero la carencia de un proceso de primarias internas puede, irónicamente, terminarle beneficiando a Bukele mientras ARENA busca recuperar tiempo perdido después de la renuncia de Quijano. Sin embargo, cuando se compara con otros partidos amigos del FMLN—como el FSLN de Nicaragua o el mismo PSUV de Venezuela—queda claro que el FMLN ha logrado un nivel de institucionalidad partidaria que otros partidos que surgen de movimientos revolucionarios no han logrado.

El segundo eje es el de la transparencia. Pero las dimensiones varían y ahí todos tienen camino por recorrer. Transparencia no sólo se refiere a cuestiones de financiamiento, sino también a los procesos de toma de decisiones—tanto de directrices internas como de posiciones partidarias ante eventos coyunturales.

Finalmente, el tercer eje es, quizá, el más importante: el alcance a nuevos sectores. La composición socio-demográfica salvadoreña ha cambiado, y junto con ella, los patrones de votación. El Salvador es un país cada vez más urbano, con una población joven y una clase media golpeada por la inseguridad y la carencia de oportunidades económicas. El electorado está informado no solo del acontecer nacional, sino también del mundial. Estudiar, analizar y comprender estas variaciones sociodemográficas es clave para la elaboración de propuestas y plataformas políticas que respondan a realidades  y necesidades específicas.

El reto es grande y complejo para todo el sistema de partidos políticos. En la medida que la sociedad salvadoreña se ha ido profesionalizando, así también crece la expectativa que la clase política actúe y proponga de manera profesional, seria y apegada al ahora—y no al pasado.

Tags: Democracia, El Salvador, Partidos Políticos

The Republican Electoral Paradox

October 21, 2014

by John Parisella

As the U.S. nears its mid-term elections, primetime U.S. media events—the recent debate on the war against ISIS, global terrorism, the international Ebola scare, and the pending approval of the Keystone Pipeline—are making top news fodder in Canada as well. The upcoming U.S. elections on November 4, 2014 are no exception.

With President Obama’s low approval rating, will the Republicans take control of the Senate? If so, Obama enters the real lame duck period of his presidency because speculation about the 2016 race will begin immediately after election night ends.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly in the lead for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Not even Vice President Joe Biden comes anywhere close. Other potential candidates, such as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Virginia Senator James Webb and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley are marginal, at best. The lack of a real primary contest for the Democrats will make the path to nomination a fait accompli for Ms. Clinton, but it will have the disadvantage of keeping her regularly out of the news cycle.  Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to have a real contest with no front runner emerging until late in the campaign.

The paradox is that the Republicans have consistently won the House of Representatives in every election since 1994 with the exception of 2008, when the Obama victory wave swept both houses of Congress. The Senate, however, has been more contentious. 

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Tags: Mid-term Elections, United States elections 2016

Why There’s No Nate Silver in Brazil

October 21, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

Even famed statistician Nate Silver couldn’t have forecast the first-round results of Brazil's presidential election, which heads to a final runoff vote this Sunday. And not just because the campaign has unfolded with Dickensian complexity—down to the colorful cast of characters, tragic death, and political rebirth. From a scarcity of polling data to the very way elections are held in Brazil, political forecasters here face unique challenges, the results of which have been on display during this volatile election season.

Much of the unpredictability is a product of Brazil being a young democracy. The country's lack of historical election data makes it especially difficult to divine voters' intentions, according to Clifford Young, President of U.S. Public Affairs and former Managing Director for Brazil at Ipsos, a global market and public opinion research firm. 

“Nate Silver would have had the same troubles here,” Young said in a telephone interview.

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Tags: Brazil elections, Polling, Nate Silver

Righting Guatemala’s Broken Judicial Selection Process

October 16, 2014

by Mirte Postema

This year has been important for Guatemala’s judicial system. A number of judicial posts are due to be filled in 2014, and so far this year, a new electoral tribunal and attorney general have already taken office.

In July, the selection process for Supreme Court and appeals court magistrates began. However, these two selection processes were rife with irregularities and controversy. On October 9, Guatemala’s Constitution Court (CC) issued a provisional ruling suspending the results of the two selection processes, thus taking an important step towards compliance with international standards and national law.

Although Congress generally appoints judges in Guatemala, the selection process for judges and magistrates involves special comisiones de postulación (selection commissions), which provide Congress with a shortlist of possible candidates. The commissions are made up of representatives from various areas of the legal community: law school deans, judges and lawyers.

This mechanism—which is unique to Guatemala—was designed to depoliticize the selection process. However, it is clear that the model is no longer working as intended. The commissions have been influenced by  special interests—including deans from new, privately-owned universities —and there are currently no tools to adequately counteract them. Meanwhile, national and international organizations, such as DPLF, CEJIL and the Open Society Justice Initiative, have reported that Guatemala’s judicial selection process violates national and international norms.

Guatemala’s 2014 judicial selection processes demonstrate that a profound modification of the proceedings is overdue. The more robust selection criteria developed by the CC in judgment 2143-2014—which requires commissions to research the candidates’ qualifications, interview the candidates, and explain their votes—were largely ignored by the commission to select appeals court judges, and only marginally adhered to by the Supreme Court selection commission. The selection processes were also compromised by conflicts of interest, because some commission members were candidates in the other selection process.

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Tags: Guatemala, Judicial Reform

Indigenous Political Participation Key to Morales’ Lead

October 9, 2014

by Ramiro Sebastián Fúnez

Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to be elected to a third term in office on October 12—and not by a small margin. A September 30 poll conducted by French global market research company Ipsos predicts that the incumbent will receive a comfortable 59 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, opposition candidates Samuel Doria Medina of the Unidad Demócrata (Democratic Unity—UD), Jorge Quiroga of the Partido Demócrata Cristiano (Democratic Christian Party—PDC), Juan del Granado of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (Movement without Fear—MSM) and Fernando Vargas of the Partido Verde de Bolivia (Bolivian Green Party—PVB) are each expected to receive less than 15 percent of the vote individually.

Among opposition circles, speculation is rife that the increased number of eligible Bolivian voters (totaling 6.5 million) and the alleged pro-Morales bias of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) indicate a fraudulent electoral process. Doria Medina, earning an estimated 13 percent of the vote in the recent Ipsos poll, has also claimed that the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism—MAS) government is manipulating television advertising allocation in favor of the president.

“They have aired up to 60 negative spots on television against us, and when we tried to respond to them with our own spots, the Electoral Tribunal denied us permission,” Doria Medina told Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald in September. “Likewise, we put campaign signs on the streets, and the government ordered police to remove them. The government has a monopoly of public signs,” Medina said.

However, opposition members attempting to make sense of Morales’ expected win should look no further than the president’s overwhelming support from the country’s historically marginalized Aymara and Quechua populations, which form an important percentage of Bolivia’s population. Morales’ presidency has been marked by mass Indigenous political participation in government affairs, an achievement unheard of in previous administrations.

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Tags: Bolivian Elections, Evo Morales, Indigenous Rights

Why Brazil Lacked Faith in Marina Silva

October 7, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

At the front of one of Paraná’s largest Pentecostal churches, beneath a ceiling of glowing neon tiles arranged in the pattern of a giant cross, are two ornately framed pictures: one is of a new $300 million, 10,000-seat temple in São Paulo, and another is of a future $122 million, 5,000-seat structure here in downtown Curitiba.

Brazilian evangelicals are looking to the future—but Marina Silva, despite being the sole Pentecostal presidential candidate in the election, is not a part of their plans.

“What we want is someone who can open doors for the church,” Alessandre Freitas, a lead pastor of this congregation of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, told me after delivering a fiery two-hour sermon Sunday night that left his voice hoarse. “I think with Dilma it will be better.”

That conviction bore out Sunday when many evangelicals voted for President Dilma Rousseff—who is nominally a Catholic, but also a strong ally to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination after the Assemblies of God (to which Silva belongs). Both are charismatic Pentecostal faiths where pastors and laypeople alike invoke the name of Jesus to heal the sick and chase away demons.

Rather than being motivated by faith to support Silva, many evangelical Christians voted with the conviction that what’s best for the church is a strong and powerful ally in Palácio do Planalto. That meant voting for Dilma Rousseff, who won 41.5 percent of the overall vote, while center-right candidate Aécio Neves took 33.7 percent and Silva captured only 21.3 percent. Because no contender garnered an outright majority, Brazilians will return to the polls October 26 to choose between Rousseff and Neves.

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Tags: Brazil, Marina Silva, Religion

Monday Memo: Brazilian Elections – Gay Marriage – Renewable Energy – Missing Mexican Students – Peruvian Elections – Mining in Argentina

October 6, 2014

by AQ Online

Brazil’s presidential elections lead to runoff: As predicted, Brazilians will return to the polls on October 26 to vote for president in a second round of elections—but in a last-minute surprise, challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB) will face Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. In Sunday’s first-round election, Rousseff earned 41.5 percent of the first-round votes, while Neves won 33.7 percent and Marina Silva of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB)—widely thought to be Rousseff’s main challenger—captured only 21.3 percent of the vote. Since Rousseff failed to capture more than 50 percent of the vote, she and Neves will continue to campaign, as will gubernatorial candidates in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Ceará, and Rio Grande do Norte. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who supports Neves, said Sunday that he hoped Silva would throw her support behind Neves to unseat Rousseff.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects appeals of gay marriage: In a surprising judicial decision on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals of lower court decisions reversing same-sex marriage bans in five states—Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. As a result of the decision, the number of U.S. states permitting same-sex marriage increases to 24, plus the District of Columbia. The court’s decision will likely also permit same-sex couples to marry in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming, where appeals courts have already struck down the states’ same-sex marriage bans. Although the U.S. Supreme Court could still hear future cases on same-sex marriage, its decision today sends a strong message to lower court judges that “rulings striking down marriage bans are consistent with the U.S. Constitution.” ​

Domestic renewable energy market opens in Chile: This week, new legislation in Chile that opens up the country’sdomestic renewable energy market to Chilean homeowners is now in effect. In late September, the Chilean Controller approved regulatory language to implement Law 20.571, which provides incentives for Chilean homeowners to install renewable energy sources and will allow “residential generators” in Chile to connect their energy systems to the grid and receive payments for surplus electricity. Last month, Chile also became the first South American country to tax carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to encourage cleaner sources of energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Presently, about 80 percent of Chile’s energy is generated by fossil fuels.

Missing Mexican college students may be buried in mass graves: Mexican authorities have discovered six mass graves in Iguala, Mexico that may contain the bodies of dozens of college students who were training to be teachers and who went missing last week after deadly protests in Guerrero state.  While 15 of the missing students were later located alive, another 43 students are still missing.  So far, at least 28 bodies have been recovered from the mass graves, but Guerrero state Health Minister Lázaro Mazón said it could take weeks before the remains are identified. Meanwhile, two hitmen interrogated by authorities admitted that they killed 17 students on orders from a leader of the Guerreros Unidos gang shortly after the protests.

Peruvian elections marred by violence and corruption: Sunday’s municipal and regional elections in Peru have highlighted political corruption and drug violence in the Andean nation, where at least seven gubernatorial candidates  are currently under investigation for drug trafficking or related crimes. The Friday before the elections, Shining Path rebels ambushed a four-vehicle police convoy, killing two and wounding five officers tasked with protecting election materials in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley in Ayacucho, where over half of Peru’s cocaine is produced. Before the election, two mayoral candidates from coca-growing towns were also assassinated. According to independent watchdog group Transparencia, 1,395 of the 126,000 candidates running in Sunday’s elections were convicted of a crime.

New mining district to be created in Catamarca: The government of Catamarca province in Argentina will create a provincial mining district to help advance two mining projects in the region—the Agua Rica and  Cerro Atajo projects. Catamarca's government has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canada-based Yamana Gold, which has a stake in both mining projects. The agreement would establish a working relationship between Yamana and the government, create a combined entity that includes the Agua Rica and Cerro Atajo projects, and would enable the state-owned provincial mining company CAMYEN to own a maximum 5 percent stake. Yamana is considering devloping the Agua Rica project in conjunction with others, though the project is currently 100 percent owned by Yamana.

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Tags: Brazilian elections, Peruvian Elections, Same-Sex Marriage

Marina Silva and the Uncertain Legacy of Chico Mendes

October 3, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

This article is part of "Connecting the Americas," a collaborative project of Americas Quarterly and Zócalo Public Square.

XAPURI, BRAZIL

Entry into the Casa Chico Mendes Museum is free, but it’ll cost you $20,000 to visit the environmental activist’s assassin. He lives down the street—if you’re interested.

I was. I recently visited Brazil’s dusty Wild West town of Xapuri to look into the legacy of Francisco “Chico” Mendes, most famous defender of the Amazon rainforest and an inspiration to a generation of environmentalists—most notably Marina Silva, who may be the next president. How Brazil treated the memory Mendes—and his assassins, who have brazenly returned to their nearby ranch like characters from an old cowboy film—might provide a glimpse into the nation’s concern for environmentalism and activism, and maybe also into the candidacy of Silva.

In the 1980s, Mendes had rallied rubber tappers and Indigenous people in the Amazon to forcefully resist the encroachment of farmers and cattle ranchers, who were clearing a football field-sized swath of forest every second and spewing carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere. Mendes is an official national hero and a world-recognized activist, so I thought it was reasonable to also expect him to be revered in Xapuri.

“Chico Mendes has been a symbolic force for people all over the world,” the international environmental advocate Casey Box told me. “Other nations see him as a major force against industries and pushing back against aggression. He’s had a global reach.”

But in Xapuri itself, I couldn’t even find a postcard of Mendes for sale. While Box said he recalled seeing an Indigenous activist in Indonesia wearing a Chico Mendes t-shirt, the only Brazilian I’ve ever seen wearing a Mendes t-shirt was a staff worker at the Casa Chico Mendes Museum, which is where the activist was blasted by a twenty-gauge shotgun in front of his wife and children days before Christmas in 1988.

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Tags: Chico Mendes, Marina Silva, Brazilian elections

Brazil’s Gas Station Blues

October 3, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

The result was conclusive from Brazil’s fifth and final presidential debate last night, which started at 11 pm so as not to conflict with the soap opera “Imperio”: Sunday’s election is too close to call. (And also, candidates’ plans for Brazil’s future are less important to Brazilian telenovela fans than the fictional future of Rio de Janeiro’s rich and famous.)

So to get a sense of what voters are thinking ahead of Sunday’s vote, I ambushed a few Brazilians filling up their vehicles at the gas stations here in Curitiba. In any democracy, the choice at the ballot box often reflects which candidate is best for a voter's wallet, and many of Brazil’s 143 million voters will be directly affected by what the next president does to the price of government-regulated gasoline and oil.

The number of cars in Brazil grew by 123 percent over the past decade to 80 million, meaning that the price at the pump increasingly influences Brazilians’ choice on the ballot. Drivers can directly attribute today’s pump price to President Dilma Rousseff, who in 2011 set an artificially low sales price for gasoline that cost state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) tens of billions of dollars a year, but kept many of her constituents happy.

That includes Aminadabe Marcante, an attendant at Presidente gas station in central Curitiba, who told me that he’ll be voting for Rousseff because he doesn’t want change in this election. “I don’t have time to watch TV or debates,” Marcante said. “I’m voting for Dilma because she’s been good for the poor.”

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Tags: Brazilian elections, Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva

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