This week, in the wake of the weekend’s “mega-vote” – which produced a political earthquake – the battle to succeed President Sebastian Pinera in Chile moves up a gear. In Peru, Keiko Fujimori and her leftist rival Pedro Castillo will sign a pledge to respect democratic norms and the institutional framework. Brazil will see President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic come under close scrutiny. Colombia’s protests will continue this week. In Argentina, Covid-19 restrictions are set to be extended, while concerns over stubbornly high inflation – which President Alberto Fernandez has described as “inexplicable” – rises. Finally, in Ecuador, the indigenous Pachakutik (PK) party and its ally, the Democratic Left (ID), will be gatekeepers – and decisive for governability – in the new National Assembly.
The shock of the (preliminary) results from the weekend’s mayoral, municipal council, gubernatorial, and constituent assembly elections will take some time to fully digest. For the governing Chile Vamos (CV) coalition, the results were a heavy blow; the CV did not even get close to its objective of a one-third bloc in the constituent assembly vote. The center-left fared even worse as independents and an alliance of the Communist Party (PC) and the left-wing Broad Front (FA) performed better than expected. Predicting what positions independent assembly members adopt is difficult but clearly the CV’s failure to achieve a one-third bloc raises the prospect of more radical positions being considered and adopted.
In more immediate terms, what this means for efforts to forge a cross-party agreement on new economic support measures through the pandemic is unclear. A cabinet reshuffle could be in the offing. In parallel, the deadline for registering candidacies for the July presidential primaries falls on 19 May. Parties now have less than three days to evaluate their chances. The spotlight will fall on the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI), where a divisive internal battle for the candidacy is raging. At the other end of the spectrum, the FA’s Gabriel Boric is in a race to obtain the necessary signatures to allow him to compete in a primary against the Communist Daniel Jadue. After the weekend elections, the FA-PC looks more competitive than the traditional center-left.
The pollster Ipsos carried out a vote simulation late last week that puts Keiko Fujimori in a technical tie with her rival, the leftist Pedro Castillo. Fujimori has managed to reduce her anti-vote by nine points (to 46%) over the last month, while Castillo’s anti-vote has risen by the same amount to reach 42%. However, an IEP poll carried out roughly simultaneously to the Ipsos survey has both Castillo and Fujimori more or less unchanged from a fortnight previously, with Castillo leading by around six points. The issue of who is advising Castillo is likely to remain at the forefront of the campaign; Castillo was expected to unveil a team of advisors on 15 May but only ended up revealing four names. In parallel, both candidates are due to sign today, 17 May, a church-brokered pledge to respect democratic norms and the institutional framework.
Former health minister, Army General Eduardo Pazuello, will testify in the Senate inquiry on the handling of the pandemic on 19 May; his appearance comes after a 15-day postponement due to possible Covid-19. Pazuello was the longest serving health minister in the Jair Bolsonaro administration and put into practice the president’s denialist narrative during the pandemic. A majority of senators in the inquiry committee believe they already have the elements to forward a request to the Prosecutor’s Office for the indictment of the president for sanitary crimes and crimes against life. On another front, the leaders of the House and the Senate will meet on 18 May to explore ways of moving forward with a tax reform, which remains a tall order.
Negotiations between the government and the National Strike Committee (CNP) will resume today, 17 May, after four hours of inconclusive talks yesterday. The two sides still appear distant as the country nears three weeks of sustained anti-government protests triggered by a controversial tax reform that the government hastily withdrew. The CNP is organizing a new day of strikes and protests for 19 May, just as concerns about the economic effects of the crisis mount. The departure of Foreign Minister Claudia Blum last week could open up a window for President Ivan Duque to reshuffle his cabinet and “oxygenate” his struggling administration.
Current Covid-19 restrictions are set to expire on 21 May but will almost certainly be renewed in some form before then – Argentina currently has the fourth highest daily caseload globally. President Alberto Fernandez had hoped to obtain new powers to impose restrictions without legal challenges from provinces before 21 May. The bill arose after the jurisdictional dispute between central government and the capital Buenos Aires, whose mayor Horacio Rodriguez Larreta succeeded in keeping schools open against Fernandez’s wishes. A re-worked version of the bill will be re-submitted to Congress in June.
In parallel, the results of Fernandez’s European trip last week are yet to solidify. Finance Minister Martin Guzman needs to show Paris Club creditors that talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are advancing if he is to persuade the Paris Club to grant Argentina more time on its looming USD 2.4bn debt payment. However, while Guzman and Fernandez were in Europe, Kirchneristas sought to reduce Guzman’s room for maneuver by passing a bill that would oblige any IMF Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) distributed to Argentina (as much as USD 4.35bn) to be earmarked for health and social spending and not on debt payments. Guzman’s other challenge, which also came into focus last week, was the stubbornly high inflation rate, which stood at 4.1% in April, or 17.6% for the first four months of 2021.
The new National Assembly (AN) will vote on the make-up of the 15 legislative commissions from tomorrow, 18 May. This follows the election over the weekend of the new leadership body (CAL) for the assembly, presided over by the new AN president, Guadalupe Llori, who hails from the indigenous Pachakutik (PK) party. Llori’s election followed an agreement with president-elect Guillermo Lasso’s Creating Opportunities (CREO) party. The seven-member CAL has four members from PK and the Democratic Left (ID), which are in alliance. Whether CREO can maintain the agreement with PK and the ID as they divvy up commissions remains to be seen. Lasso will want a solid CREO presence on the economic and labor commissions given his interest in tax and labor reforms. Lasso will be sworn in on 24 May.