2022: The World This Year

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2022: The World This Year
Elections in Colombia and Brazil: Re-emergence of the Pink Tide

  Madhura Mahesh

TWTW#196, 31 December 2022, Vol. 4, No. 45


What happened?

On 19 June, Gustavo Petro was elected as Colombia’s first left-wing President. Petro leading the historic pact coalition won 50.42 per cent of the total votes in the run-off elections. He defeated Rodolfo Hernández who received 47.35 per cent of the total votes. Petro is a 67-year-old former M-19 guerrilla who was the runner-up in the 2018 presidential elections. 

On 30 October, Luiz Lula da Silva was elected as the President of Brazil with 50.9 per cent of the total votes. The Former President defeated Jair Bolsonaro who received 49.1 per cent of the total votes in the second round of voting. 77-year-old Lula from the Workers Party was the President of Brazil from 2003 to 2010 and the 2022 elections were his sixth presidential campaign. He did not contest in the 2018 elections as he was imprisoned on charges of money laundering and corruption. He was released from house arrest in 2019. 

What is in the background?

First, the electoral structure in Colombia and Brazil. Colombia and Brazil elect their Presidents for a four-year term. In both countries, if no candidate avails a 50 per cent majority, the second round of elections will take place. In Colombia, no President can run for a second term and the runner-up candidate gets a seat in the Senate. In the 2022 elections in both Brazil and Colombia, the candidates went for the second round of elections as no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the votes. Petro was the runner-up in the previous 2018 Presidential elections which gave him an edge against other candidates. Colombian politics till 2022 was dominated by Liberal and Conservative parties which made Petro’s election historical. The second round of elections enabled more electoral participation by masses as the campaigns continued for longer time.

Second, the negative impact of Covid-19. Both Brazil and Colombia were adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Colombia, the economy was hit the hardest which pushed 3.6 million into poverty which is largely credited to the lax handling of the pandemic by the previous Colombian government. Due to this 40 per cent of the Colombian population live in poverty. In Brazil, the mishandling of the pandemic by Bolsonaro led to Brazil recording the fourth-highest death toll of around 685,000. Bolsonaro’s Covid-19 policies were criticized. The pandemic also exposed loopholes in Brazilian health infrastructure which contributed to the high death toll. Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic was one of the main points of contention in the 2022 elections.    

Third, change in the nature of issues affecting Colombian elections. Till 2022 the issue that dominated Colombian elections was that of internal security threats concerning the violence led by various guerrilla groups across the country. In the 2022 elections while this was one of the issues it was overshadowed by the growing dissatisfaction of the people with incumbent President, Iván Duque Márquez and his government. This was also reflected in the final election results as the candidates having similar mandates either withdrew from the electoral race or received fewer votes compared to previous elections. The public was greatly critical of the tax reforms introduced by the incumbent government which was an agenda of Petro during his campaign. Petro’s campaign focused on economic and environmental issues affecting Colombia and proposed policies to combat inequality, tax the rich and reform public services like health care.   

Fourth, increasing concerns about Colombia’s internal and external security. While security concerns did not dominate the 2022 Elections they still played an important role, especially concerning the implementation of the 2016 Colombia peace accord. The deal was signed between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016 to bring peace to Colombia and cease the decades-long conflict plaguing Colombian society. The deal was not effectively implemented with many right-wing leaders calling for the cessation of the deal and vouching for tough military response in dealing with the rebels. The Colombians greatly criticised this view and took to the streets to protest against it. Petro also criticised the opposition’s stance on killing the deal and promised to increase talks with the rebel groups to bring peace to the country.  

Fifth, the dichotomy between Lula and Bolsonaro. In Brazil, the 2022 elections were highly polarised which was reflected in the opposing mandates of Lula and Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro, a right-wing politician contested on a socially conservative platform which includes policies advocating an open-market economy, and ignoring minority rights. Lula a left-wing politician contested on a platform advocating increased taxes on the rich, increased public spending, and combating inequality and hunger. This dichotomy was evident in the election campaigns of both the candidates and in the public debates between the two. In the public debates both resorted to personal barbs with Lula criticising Bolsonaro’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and Bolsonaro bringing up the corruption charges levied against Lula. 

Sixth, rising environmental and humanitarian concerns. In Brazil, Lula’s election mandate gave a special emphasis to environmental concerns with a special emphasis being given on the Amazon forest. This comes as Bolsonaro had paused the Amazon fund which was consolidated to protect the Amazon forest and the rising tensions between the Bolsonaro administration and the indigenous tribes of Brazil. The latter was due to Bolsonaro allowing private companies to operate in the Amazon forest causing disruptions in the livelihood of the tribes. The re-emergence of pink tide in Latin America through the elections of Brazil and Colombia shows the growing change in the views of the people who are voting for candidates promising economic recovery and peace. The relevance of ruling governments will be determined by their response to the growing economic crisis and implications of the Russia-Ukraine war and also by their presence in the region concerning their relations with the US and their neighbours. 

About the author

Madhura Mahesh is a Research Intern at the National Insitute of Advanced Studies.  

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