Monday, November 22, 2021

Kast and Boric to face-off in Chile (Nov. 22, 2021)

Chileans expressed support for wildly divergent candidates in yesterday's presidential elections: the country's far-right and new left will face off in a runoff vote on Dec. 19 Ultra-conservative José Antonio Kast came in first with 27.91 percent of the vote, closely followed by former student leader Gabril Boric, with 25.83 percent. (CNN, New York Times)

The two leading candidates represent diametrically opposite visions for the country's future, reports El País. Kast's platform is socially conservative and economically liberal -- his promises to focus on order and security resonate among voters disenchanted with the process of social change demanded by massive protests in 2019. Boric is representative of the protest movement's demands for more social security, including education and health policies, and has promised greater state presence in the economy. 

Kast doubled down on his far right rhetoric last night, framing the runoff as a choice between "communism and liberty," reports the Associated Press. Boric, on the other hand, refrained from attacking Kast by name, accepting the results with humility and urging his supporters to listen to and convince doubters who voted for other candidates.

The two must now vie for votes from the political center and undecided, reports El Mostrador. The final result could have significant impact on the evolution and implementation of the country's constitutional rewrite, currently in process, notes El Mostrador

Though historically the winner of the first-round has always won the presidency, there is nothing traditional about Sunday's elections, notes El País.

Traditional center-right and center-left parties were the great losers yesterday: ruling party candidate Sebastián Sichel came in fourth with 12.79 percent, followed by Yasna Provoste, who represents the traditional left, who obtained 11.61 percent. Provoste's votes will likely go to Boric in a second-round. Sichel refrained from supporting Kast yesterday, saying there were programmatic differences, but left open avenues for talks.

The surprise third place winner is Franco Parisi, a wildcard candidate who campaigned from the U.S. as he cannot enter Chile due to an alimony debt he owes his ex wife. Parisi obtained 12.8 percent with an anti-political establishment discourse, reports El País. It is less clear which way his voters would swing, but many analysts predict they could transfer their allegiance to Kast. He won support from voters upset with the political establishment but who don’t back the far left, political scientist Patricio Navia told the Wall Street Journal. (See also CNN)

The elections follow a series of turbulent years in Chile that belie its traditionally staid reputation in the region. Massive social unrest in 2019 expressed deep discontent with inequality and demanded improvements to the country's social welfare system. The country's citizens chose to create a Constitutional Convention in response, and elected mostly independent delegates to draft a new magna carta that will likely take a broader rights-based approach than the current constitution. A series of clashes with Indigenous groups in the country's south pushed President Sebastián Piñera to call a state of emergency last month, a move criticized by rights groups. And Piñera narrowly avoided impeachment over allegations of impropriety revealed in the Pandora Papers. (See last Thursday's briefsOct. 13's post, and the Chile Constitutional Updates.)

Dissatisfaction was exacerbated by the pandemic: “Covid exposed inequalities, it exacerbated inequalities and made it easy to politicize those inequalities in a way that we expect will be very hard on incumbents,” political scientist Jennifer Pribble told the New York Times. On Twitter, Pribble warned about using the blanket term "polarization" to equalize both Kast and Boric: "If we refer to ‘polarization,’ we must differentiate between t/ radicalized (& anti-democratic) right and a social democratic left that seeks to respond to broad societal demands for a welfare state, rights for historically marginalized groups, & a response to the climate crisis."

Participation was 47.34 percent, lower than the 50.9 percent of voters who cast ballots in a plebiscite that launched a constitutional rewrite last year. (CNN)

Venezuela's PSUV sweeps regional elections

Venezuela's ruling Socialist Party swept regional elections yesterday that were the first to include prominent opposition parties since 2017. Political allies of President Nicolás Maduro won 20 out of 23 gubernatorial offices across the country, according to preliminary results from the National Electoral Council (CNE). (Washington Post, Reuters, Efecto Cocuyo)

The three governorships won by the opposition -- in Zulia, Cojedes and Nueva Esparta -- are negligible, according to El País, who said the opposition's results are worse than in 2017, when they won four governors seats in regional elections marked by boycotts and irregularities.

Human rights advocates raised alarm at reports of “irregularities, threats and attacks” in the electoral process. Observers reported government efforts to intimidate voters, with threats to withdraw social benefits for those who do not support the ruling party. There were also dozens of reports of harassment of media workers, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

“We’ve seen all of this before,” said Human Rights Watch's Tamara Taraciuk. “The big difference is that the European Union is there to raise alarms in a timely manner about what is happening on the ground. It could set the stage for truly free and fair elections in the future.” European Union observers monitored the election around the country, the first time in 15 years the bloc sent observers.

Several opposition leaders and academics who track Venezuela said participating in the election gives the opposition the chance to take note of the irregularities, and use the experience to inform ongoing negotiations with the government aimed at reaching free and fair presidential elections in 2024.

More than 21 million Venezuelans were eligible to vote in over 3,000 contests, including for 23 governors and 335 mayors. More than 70,000 candidates entered the races. Though turnout is generally low in regional elections, this time it was even lower, just 41.8 percent. Efecto Cocuyo reports particularly desolate polling stations.

Opinion polls find that most of the country overwhelmingly wants a political change, but nobody was surprised by the opposition's results, reports El País. The election comes as much of the country is exhausted by political conflict and unfulfilled promises of imminent regime change, leaving most Venezuelans apathetic to politics, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The opposition hoped to rally disillusioned supporters by participating in the elections, after years of boycotting irregular processes. But the decision further fractured an already fragmented opposition movement, opponents include Juan Guaidó, who has claimed interim leadership of Venezuela for years, though he has lost support recently.

In addition to irregularities, divisions in the opposition helped deliver wins for Maduro, reports the Washington Post. The late decision to participate, announced in September, also prevented opposition candidates from designing better strategies, reports El País.

Regardless of turnout, Sunday’s elections could mark the emergence of new opposition leaders, consolidate alliances and draw the lines to be followed by Maduro’s adversaries, according to the Associated Press.

Maduro said yesterday that negotiations with the opposition in Mexico will remain suspended until "the kidnap" of a prominent government envoy Alex Saab - who was extradited to the United States - is answered for, reports Reuters.

More Venezuela
  • A new WOLA report finds that the scale of Venezuela’s complex humanitarian emergency remains dire, and that it has been exacerbated by the government’s inadequate and politicized response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But authors  Geoff Ramsey and Kristen Martinez-Gugerli, also note that since 2020, a series of humanitarian agreements between the Maduro government and Venezuelan opposition have benefited the population—and have offered important lessons for future accords. 

  • The report offers a series of concrete policy recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including appointing a high-level State Department official to deal with Venezuela; make clear that the U.S. government is willing to include Venezuela in its COVID-19 vaccine donation program; and emphasize the role of the UN and non-governmental organizations in the successful implementation of any humanitarian agreement.
El Salvador announced Bitcoin City

El Salvador will build the world's first "Bitcoin City", powered by a volcano and financed partly by an issue of $1 billion in sovereign bonds backed by the cryptocurrency. announced President Nayib Bukele in a rock-star style presentation complete with fireworks, artificial smoke and depiction of the leader descending from a spaceship. (Financial Times)

"Invest here and make all the money you want," Bukele said in English, at an event closing a week-long promotion of bitcoin in El Salvador. He said the city planned in the eastern region of La Union would get geothermal power from a volcano and not levy any taxes except for a value added tax, half of which would be used to fund the bonds issued to build the city, and the other half would pay for services such as garbage collection. (Reuters)

The private city plan was touted earlier in the "Bitcoin Week" event. El Faro reported (before Bukele's announcement) that they would effectively function as tax havens with little government oversight -- similar to Honduras' ZEDES.

More El Salvador
  • A reinterpretation of El Salvador's constitution that would permit Bukele to seek reelection is a throwback to the country's undemocratic past, argues Nelson Rauda in El Faro.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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