After Leaving Centrist Politics, Latin America Fights Extremes

In the second round of ColombiaLast month, voters were faced with choosing between Gustavo Petro, a leftist former guerrilla, and Rodolfo Hernandez, a candidate regularly described as a right-wing populist. ” Many citizens who define themselves as centrist and want to vote for a moderate candidate find themselves having a hard time deciding which of these extremes is worse.

Second-round polarization has become a common theme in presidential elections in Latin America. Last year, presidential candidates from ideological extremes in Chile, Peru and Colombia reached second-round votes, while more traditional and centered candidates missed out on large margin cuts. Similarly, leading to Brazils elections later this year, candidates from the center are late to the polls, leaving right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro and the iconic leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as front runners . If there is to be a surprise in the last months before that vote, the most likely scenario is a last minute ascent of an outsider, not an establishment center.

This trend started before the pandemic. In almost every election held in the region in the past four years, starting around 2018, when Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won in Mexico and Jair Bolsonaro won in Brazil, centered candidates were pushed out of competition. Centrist ”here can be defined as a person who is part of an established political movement between a countryof the major left and right wing political parties on the political spectrum.

One would think, from these results, that the citizens of Latin America have become ideologically polarized in recent years. But in almost every second-round election between two candidates with strong ideology, the majority of voters told pollsters they would prefer a moderate alternative, if that option was available. But, of course, what moderate options they have were eliminated in the first round.

The more notable trend is Latin AmericaVoters hate centrist establishments from traditional political parties that once defined the majority of the regions politics. It may be more accurate, then, to say that voters are not anti-centrist ”in an ideological sense, but anti-incumbent ”at anti-establishment. ” However, their votes left the region without a serious group of centrist politicians who could deliver the kind of moderate change they seemed to want. “Anti-centrist” results have become commonplace.

Of Latin America’s 16 democratically elected presidents, only Laurentino Cortizo of Panama and Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic can be identified as the centers of the establishment — although at least some of their critics disagree and they will be called extreme. Even then, the early take on the 2024 elections scheduled in Panama was thats shaping up to be another far left versus far -right race — a continuation of the regions anti-incumbency wave.

These races changed the political environment throughout the region in two important ways.

First, the left has moved left and away from traditional middle left parties. For example, former Chilean Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Michelle Bachelet, who describe themselves as socialists widely hated by conservative commentators for their leftist positions, are considered too moderate by the majority in Chile.s current cadre of leftist politicians. Its new president, Gabriel Boric, is further left than either of those two politicians, but represents a coalition in which he is more moderate than many of his partners. Meanwhile, many of the individuals elected to the constitutional assembly, which presented the draft of the new Chilean Constitution to Boric last week, are independents, refusing to align themselves with any political party.

Centrism will not win by being a movement of elders carrying political baggage and representing the past.

Second, the traditional right in many countries finds itself overthrown by populist candidates who can give a surplus to free markets and austerity, but are largely opposed to the traditional economic values ​​of conservative politicians. Instead, they often focus on the polarization of social issues. The best example for this trend in the hemisphere is Bolsonaro, who was named a traditional free-market economy minister, but spends large sums on fuel subsidies and other handouts, engaging in heavy intervention of the state in the economy in an attempt to restore its political. supports.

The Economist summarizes these trends neatly in a recent special report on Latin American politics:

Latin Americas left tends to be too utopian, populist and anti-capitalist. The right strictly defends its privileges and the monopoly rents in the name of freedom. And the political center collapsed. Its failure is associated with liberal technocrats, who grew up in a separate upper-middle class with very little knowledge of everyday realities.

While it is true that sentimental politicians are no longer in touch with current realities in their respective countries, corruption is also to blame. Although it is prevalent across the ideological spectrum, the perception that establishment politics is corrupt — which often has a solid foundation — weakens the establishment’s parties and gives further impetus to the populists. Populists have often been more corrupt than their establishment counterparts, but they can ride this wave of anti-establishment sentiment long enough to reach power.

To get back in touch, the center must organize politics and campaign at all levels of government, rather than organizing presidential elections. Then, wherever they win the local election or a congressional seat, they must govern properly and clearly. In addition, they need to diversify their ranks and create space for young people by supporting younger candidates in their run for position at the local level and beyond. As seen in the recent elections in Colombia and in the current elections in Brazil, centrism is possiblet win by being a movement of the elderly carrying political baggage and representing the past. However, bringing youth into party politics will be difficult: Polls across the region show that many young people do not trust the establishment of political parties and prefer independents.

The extreme right and left can win the election simply by offering an alternative to the establishment, but the center rarely wins because of not being extreme. And when it manages to have that kind of success, it often has no mandate for any particular agenda that provides the change voters are looking for; BidenThe 2020 win against Trump is just one example. Centrist policies are possiblenot just mean not radical. ”They must stand up for the pragmatic change that voters want and then deliver that change when given the opportunity to do so.

James Bosworth is the founder of Hxagon, a company that conducts political risk analysis and custom research in emerging and frontier markets. He has two decades of experience analyzing politics, economics and security in Latin America and the Caribbean.