Venezuelan opposition leader ends hunger strike after promise of elections

June 24, 2015

by AQ Online

“Very soon, we will have a free and democratic Venezuela!” That was the promise from opposition leader Leopoldo López as he stood in front of thousands of supporters in the Chacaíto neighborhood of Caracas on February 18, 2014. With chants of “¡Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) echoing from the crowd and a Venezuelan flag in hand, López then turned himself over to authorities, pledging to stay in the country and carry on the fight for democracy in Venezuela.

More than a year later, López is still in prison on charges of inciting violence during anti-government protests that February. But news this week suggests he may finally be closer to seeing his promise fulfilled. López ended a month-long hunger strike on Tuesday after the government met one of his demands by setting a date for congressional elections. According to the head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, official campaigning to choose all 167 members of the National Assembly will take place from November 13 to December 4, with elections set for December 6.

As the country continues to suffer from high rates of inflation, widespread violence and chronic shortages of basic goods under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of opposition parties, may be sensing an opportunity. Maduro's approval ratings fell to 25 percent in May, and some, like Venezuelan human rights activist Tamara Suju, think it's likely that the opposition will win a majority of the vote when elections are held.

"The upcoming parliamentary elections are the last chance Venezuelans have to preserve the democratic spaces from which to fight in order to restore the state of law in [their] country,” Suju told AQ.

Still, despite the prospect of change, the democratic Venezuela that López and many like him envision is not yet in hand. For one, Maduro remains confident about his chances in the elections. (On his Twitter account, he implored Venezuelans to "...unite all the forces of the people of Bolívar and Chávez to guarantee a battle and an admirable victory.”) Many fear the government may decide to postpone or cancel the elections to spare themselves an embarrassing defeat.

Even if the elections go ahead as planned, some believe that an opposition majority in the assembly may not be enough to bring about significant change. “The elections won’t necessarily do much in terms of changing the regime or the policies,” Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst from the Washington-based consultancy Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg Business. “If the opposition does well, I think the government will either tweak the results or shift power away from the National Assembly,” which would further destabilize the country, according to Grais-Targow.

Despite these concerns, the possibility of elections represents a critical opportunity for Venezuela's democracy. That's precisely why López insisted on them. In a Washington Post op-ed published last month, he called for the international community to focus its attention on Venezuela. As the December 6 election date approaches, that will surely be the case.


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Tags: Venezuela, Elections, Leopoldo Lopez

Youth Voters Prove Crucial for Guyana and Suriname Elections

June 3, 2015

by Mat Youkee

In May, South America's two smallest countries went to the polls with differing results. On May 11, Guyana's People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was ousted from government after 22 years. Two weeks later in neighboring Suriname, incumbent president and former military leader Dési Bouterse led his National Democratic Party (NDP) to a handy victory and looks set to extend his presidency by another five year term.

What links both elections is the increasing importance of young voters in deciding outcomes. Breaking with past generations, young voters in Guyana and Suriname today are mobilized by social media rather than rallies, care little for the partisan politics of the past and appear to be more likely to vote on issues rather than for the ethnic parties of their parents' generation. 

Guyana and Suriname have populations of roughly 800,000 and 540,000, respectively, and both countries possess remarkable ethnic diversity. In Guyana, citizens of South Asian descent are the largest group, accounting for 43 percent of the population, and the Indo-Guyanese PPP/C has used its demographic advantage to win five consecutive elections since 1992.

However, in recent years, economic mismanagement and corruption scandals have eroded support for the PPP/C and have galvanized the opposition. This time around, an alliance between the Afro-Guyanese A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and the Alliance for Change (APC)—the latter a multiethnic party founded in 2005—won 33 seats in Parliament to the PPP/C's 32.

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Tags: Guyana, Suriname, Elections

New Study Ranks Democracy in Latin America

January 21, 2015

by AQ Online

Only two countries in Latin America—Costa Rica and Uruguay—can be considered “full democracies,” according to an Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study commissioned by BBC for Democracy Day on January 20. The report says that a majority of Latin American countries hold “free and fair” elections and are better ranked than their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, but democracy in the region has stagnated. The governments of Cuba and Haiti are the lowest-ranked in Latin America and are classified as authoritarian regimes.

The study assesses a total of six factors, including access to the polls, electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functionality of the government, political participation and political culture. Each country is evaluated on a scale of 0 to 10 and classified into one of four categories: full democracy, imperfect democracy, hybrid and authoritarian regime.

Nine countries (Chile, Brazil, Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, and Paraguay) are considered imperfect democracies, while six are classified as hybrids (Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela). Imperfect democracies are characterized by weaknesses in governability, low levels of political participation and an undeveloped political culture. The division between “imperfect” and “hybrid” regimes isn’t clear, says London School of Economics professor Francisco Panizza, but hybrids are generally described as having substantial irregularities in elections, oppression of opposition parties and greater weakness in governance.

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Tags: democracy, Elections, Costa Rica, Uruguay

Elections: Québec Style

March 13, 2014

by John Parisella

If there is one election campaign that usually resonates across Canada outside of a national election, it is the one held in the province of Québec (a federated state). This has been the case since the 1960s when the modern age of Québec politics and the growing impact of television converged. A strong thrust for major progressive reforms advocated by the Liberal government of the day, and the emergence of a strong nationalist fervor dominated the campaigns. The political effervescence of the day resulted in the creation of pro-Québec independence party with a social democratic agenda in 1968. It was named the Parti Québécois (PQ).

In the early 1970s the pro-independence and highly nationalist PQ became a growing force. By 1976, they formed a majority government and committed to have a referendum that would result in an independent Québec and the breaking up of Canada as we know it. Since then, the PQ has been in (1976-1985/1994-2003/2012-) and out of power but when in power, they tend to promote Québec’s political separation from a federal Canada. There have been two referenda in Quebec (1980,1995) and the pro-independence forces have lost both.

In September 2012, the PQ formed a minority government and has worked since then to win a majority by building up support. On March 5, Québec Premier Pauline Marois asked Québec’s Lieutenant Governor to dissolve the National Assembly for an election to be held on April 7. A majority would give the PQ the reins to push for Québec independence and possibly stronger advocacy of language legislation to protect the French language (Québec’s official and majority language).

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Tags: Canada, Elections, Quebec

Argentina’s 2013 Elections: Signs of Change or More of the Same?

October 4, 2013

by Caitlin Andrews

With national legislative elections coming up on October 27, Argentina is abuzz with political activity. In addition to the high economic stakes—the country suffers from increasing inflation and faces the threat of a deep recession—many view this year’s elections as a harbinger of who will become Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s successor two years from now. The results of the August 11 primary races suggest a challenge to her influence, though perhaps not to Argentina’s political system.

Kirchner is serving her second and final term in office (though some debate whether she will attempt to run for a currently unconstitutional third term). The Peronist party, Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV), has made several legal adjustments to the country’s electoral and judicial systems that could serve to boost its popularity. They have lowered the voting age to 16 in hopes of support from  young voters, created bureaucratic obstacles that political parties must overcome to compete in elections, and reformed the Corte Suprema de Justicia de la Nación (Supreme National Court of Justice)  so that two-thirds of its judicial magistrates must affiliate with a political party and run for election.

However, signs of popular dissent have hinted that a new leader might rise to power and bring ten years of Kirchnerismo to a close. First, the opposition has staged several massive protests, including those held in November of last year and this past April, each with larger turnouts than any popular protest since the 2001 economic crisis. Second, the primary elections held three weeks ago suggest that the president’s grip on power may be slipping. To the FPV’s surprise, the Frente Renovador (Renewing Front) candidate, Sergio Massa—the mayor of Tigre (a populous suburb just north of Buenos Aires) and a onetime-Peronist party member who has now distanced himself from the FPV—defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s pick, Martín Insaurralde, for representative of the province of Buenos Aires, a vital district for the president and a traditional Peronist stronghold.

Yet Fernández de Kirchner maintains a confident outlook on the October elections, and her supporters, organized into neighborhood groups, pledge their loyalty as strongly as ever. Yet Massa’s victory in the province of Buenos Aires and non-FPV victories in the provinces of Jujuy, San Juan, Chubut, and La Rioja—normally strong Peronist areas—indicate that many voters are ready for a change.

Though Massa has yet to secure a victory as representative of Buenos Aires province in October and the presidential elections remain two years away, it appears that he is gaining momentum on a potential run for the presidency. While some doubt he has the personal charisma to become a national Peronist leader, others—Peronists and anti-Peronists alike—are drawn to Massa. In recent interviews  I conducted in Buenos Aires, a range of voters said that Massa focuses on “real issues” that affect Argentines and that he seems removed from the claims of corruption they perceive in the Fernández de Kirchner administration. His victory in the upcoming midterm elections would present a threat to the Fernádez de Kirchner legacy.

Ultimately, however, Massa may represent more continuity than change. In addition to cutting his teeth as a Peronist mayor, well versed in its politics, his intensely personalistic campaign does not diverge greatly from that of Peronist “super-presidents”—from Juan Domingo Perón himself to Carlos Menem and Fernández de Kirchner. Massa may stress “policy over politics,” but he also abruptly announced his candidacy less than two months before the primaries and relied largely on his own attractive image to garner support. His campaign posters, hung throughout Tigre and Buenos Aires province, display only a clever spelling of his name, “+a,” in bold letters, along with that of his newly formed political party, Frente Renovador (Renewing Front), against a black background.

The current political climate suggests that Fernández de Kirchner will likely be forced to step down in 2015, bringing the reign of Kirchnerismo to an end. However, it is not clear whether an opposition candidate would take the country in a new direction, despite some Argentines’ disillusionment with the politics of the Fernández de Kirchner administration. The leading possible contender has, at least as far as his campaign is concerned, continued the personalistic style of his predecessors.

Tags: Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Elections

Poll Projects Tight Presidential Race in Honduras

September 26, 2013

by AQ Online

A new CID Gallup poll on the Honduran presidential election in November released on Tuesday shows Xiomara Castro—the wife of former President Manuel Zelaya—has a slight lead. The poll estimates that Castro, representing the leftist Partido Libertad y Refundacion (Liberty and Refoundation Party—LIBRE) would receive 29 percent of votes, followed closely by conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernández of the Partido Nacional de Honduras  (National Party of Honduras) at 27 percent.

The election has focused primarily on citizen security and organized crime, issues of tremendous importance to a country which currently reports the world’s highest homicide rate. Castro’s party—a leftist coalition of unions, Indigenous and agrarian groups founded by Zelaya upon his return from a post-coup exile in 2011—has advocated community policing as a means to combat crime. In contrast, Hernández has proposed the creation of a “militarized police force” that would facilitate collaboration between police and military personnel.

Marco Cáceres, a Honduran political analyst, notes that the number of registered voters has increased considerably during each election cycle in the last decade—with the highest increase taking place between 2009 and 2013—but this has not translated into an equal bump in voter turnout. This election cycle may see a higher rate of voter participation due to the creation of new parties and frustration with the continued political and security crisis. According to Cáceres, the winning candidate is unlikely to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, threatening his or her presidential legitimacy and the country’s hopes for political stability.

Tags: Honduras, Elections, Manuel Zelaya

Criminal Violence Becomes Political Ahead of Mexico’s July 7 Elections

July 3, 2013

by Gavin Strong

Not since Mexico’s transition to democracy in the late 1980s has the country witnessed the high levels of political violence that have characterized the build-up to the July 7 local elections.

Local politicians across the country have been the target of death threats, arson attacks and shootings. Although organized crime and drug-related violence in Mexico and the government’s efforts to curb it have garnered recent global headlines, political violence is nothing new in the Mexican political arena. The intimidation of rival party candidates and their retinues has been a feature of the electoral process in Mexico for time immemorial. What is new is the increasingly influential role organized crime groups are playing and the potential for them to undermine the democratic process.

Organized criminal groups across the 14 states where the elections are taking place are bribing, threatening  and attacking candidates, whether because they do not want them to run—presumably because they have already successfully co-opted a rival—or to intimidate them into turning a blind eye should they get elected.

Those who ignore such threats are often kidnapped or—in the worst case—killed. This was more than likely the case with Jaime Orozco, the national ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional—PRI ) candidate for the mayoral elections in the remote municipality of Guadalupe y Calvo (Chihuahua), whose body was found dumped on the side of the road on June 12. Orozco had allegedly been kidnapped by a group of armed men two days earlier.

Candidates from across the political spectrum have withdrawn from mayoral elections in droves, citing alleged death threats and a lack of guarantees of their safety. The majority have hailed from the so-called “Golden Triangle,” an important region for drug cultivation and trafficking, which spans the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango.

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Tags: Mexico, Elections, violence

Chile Holds Historic Presidential Debates

June 28, 2013

by Joseph Hinchliffe

Twenty-three years after the fall of Augusto Pinochet, on the surface at least, Chile’s democratic institutions appear strong. However, less than five months out from presidential elections, many Chileans feel more disillusioned with the political process now than at any point since the return to democracy.

In the lead up to the November 17 vote, the country will hold historic primary elections on Sunday. Accompanying them, over the last two weeks, were televised debates—the first to include candidates from the two major political coalitions.

Both the primaries and debates are being touted as a marked change from the vieja politica—“old school” politics which, for 23 years, has seen remarkably little policy difference between politicians who held positions under the dictatorship and those who took up arms against it, or in some cases were victims of its repression.

For those within the established political system and mainstream media, the changes herald a new era of inclusive politics and represent a response to the demands for profound change from social movements sweeping the country.

La Tercera—one of the country’s two largest newspapers—published an opinion piece on June 21 titled, “Primaries, an Important Political Step for Chile.”

Written by Juan Emilio Cheyre—commander-in-chief of the Chilean Army from 2002 to 2006, academic and member of Servicio Electoral (Electoral Service—Servel) board of directors—the article concluded:

“The primaries are important in and of themselves. However, we [Sevel] believe that, in addition, they represent a great step forward in areas as relevant as: trust, public confidence, transparency, depoliticization, autonomy and participation[…] All of these are factors have a direct impact on strengthening our democracy, a task to which, as a country, we have been called upon to undertake.”

But to read the polls, the nation’s political class has never been more distant from the general public since Chile famously voted “No” to military rule in 1989.

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Tags: Chile, Elections, Media

Bachelet Chooses Campaign Team

April 5, 2013

by AQ Online

Yesterday, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced the names of her campaign team for the upcoming presidential elections on November 17. Among them are Rodrigo Peñailillo, Bachelet’s former chief of staff that will assume the role of executive secretary; Alvaro Elizalde, who will resign as the general secretary of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and assume the role of head of communications; Senator Ricardo Lagos Weber, Bachelet’s former minister spokesperson who will be campaign team leader; Paula Walker, head of press; Alberto Arenas, Bachelet’s former budget director; and Orieta Rojas who will be head of the campaign.

The remaining members of the team will be representatives from other political parties and civil society leaders such as former student leader Karina Delfino, a pioneer in the "revolución pingüina” who will oversee youth initiatives, and Javiera Parada, a close friend to Bachelet’s daughter who will oversee culture. Rodrigo Peñailillo relied on Osvaldo Andrade Lara of the Partido Socialista (The Socialist Party - PS) and former minister of Labor and Social Security under Bachelet’s administration, and former Senator Jaime Quintana and founder of the Partido por la Democracia (Party for Democracy – PPD) to create a short list of candidates.

In addition to establishing her political campaign staff, Bachelet will also create a "political advisory council" that will provide a space for conversation and reflection for experienced political leaders to offer their opinion leading up to the election. 

Her 84 percent approval rating when she left office in 2010 suggests that she will win her party’s June primary with ease. In the succeeding election, in November, she will face a candidate from the governing centre-right Coalition, either Laurence Golborne, who as mining minister was in charge of the rescue of 33 miners trapped underground in 2010, or Andrés Allamand, a former defense minister.

Tags: Michele Bachelet, Elections

Franco Announces Paraguay Election Observers

October 30, 2012

by AQ Online

La Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (Union of South American Nations—Unasur) was notably excluded from Paraguay’s list of observers for the 2013 presidential election announced by President Federico Franco on Monday. The European Union (EU), Organization of American States (OAS) and The Carter Center, all prestigious and internationally renowned organizations according to Franco, will be allowed to monitor the elections on April 21, 2013. However, he refused to comment on Unasur, which temporarily suspended Paraguay after former President Fernando Lugo was unanimously impeached in January.

Monday’s announcement comes one month after President Franco denounced Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur during his remarks at the United Nation General Assembly. Despite the fact that much of the international community viewed President Fernando Lugo’s ouster as a coup d’état, President Franco has consistently defended the nearly unanimous congressional impeachment process that took place last January. Former President Lugo was voted out of office by the opposition-controlled senate for his ties to officers responsible for the June 15 massacre at Curuguatay in which 17 peasants were killed by police who were attempting to evict them from private property near the Brazilian border.

President Franco, who is not allowed to run in next year’s election, has emphasized that the participation of the EU, OAS, and The Carter Center will ensure a transparent election.

Tags: Elections, Federico Franco, Paraguay