This week, Peru continues to wait for a definitive result from the 6 June presidential election. Venezuela‘s electoral system will come under scrutiny as the regime experiments with limited gestures towards the opposition. Colombia‘s protests appear to be fizzling out, albeit without any fundamental resolution to the issues that are driving public malaise. In Brazil, power utility Eletrobras is in the spotlight. In Mexico, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has toned down some of his more polarizing rhetoric and met with private sector representatives. Finally, in Chile, the capital is under yet another Covid-19 lockdown despite its efficient vaccine rollout.
Electoral authorities are continuing to review contested ballots and vote annulment requests submitted by Keiko Fujimori’s legal team last week. With 99.93% of votes fully scrutinized, Pedro Castillo is on 50.14%, while Fujimori is on 49.86%. The margin of difference is under 50,000 votes out of 17.6mn votes cast for the two candidates. Over the weekend, Fujimori reiterated her charge that there has been electoral fraud. However, many vote annulment requests were submitted by her Fuerza Popular (FP) team after the legal deadline. The Organization of American States (OAS) electoral observation mission says that it had not detected any serious irregularities in the vote. Tensions remain mostly contained for now, though pro-Fujimori demonstrators protested outside the home of the head of the JNE electoral board late last week. Meanwhile, a request by the prosecutor investigating Fujimori for corruption for her to return to pre-trial detention highlights how high the stakes are for Fujimori.
An independent audit of the electronic voting system operated by the National Electoral Council (CNE) starts today, 14 June. The audit, which will be carried out by a team of academics, is expected to last six weeks. The audit follows a new agreement sealed last month that led to the establishment of a new CNE. The regime still controls three out of the five CNE board members but the opposition now has two members, one of whom, Roberto Picon, has said the audit is a step towards the “re-institutionalization” of the CNE after the deeply flawed electoral processes of 2018 and 2020. How the audit proceeds, whether it is seen as credible, and what obstacles it faces from regime hardliners will all be important tests ahead of regional and municipal elections scheduled for November. The regime clearly hopes that allowing more credible elections could pave the way for some kind of sanctions relief.
The National Strike Committee (CNP), which purports to represent protestors who first mobilized in late-April, meets today, 14 June, to discuss the route forward. The CNP is internally divided and has lost public support because of the economic damage caused by so many weeks of protests and roadblocks, which have caused significant economic disruption and triggered food price inflation and shortages in some areas. Although the government appears to have gained the upper hand, many issues that drove the protests remain unaddressed. Meanwhile, the CNP remains deeply mistrustful of President Ivan Duque, which could create complications if protests were to arise again in the next few months. In parallel, recently-appointed Finance Minister Juan Manuel Restrepo will be attempting to drum up support for a revised tax reform from this week, which the government would like to submit to Congress in July.
The Senate will have to resolve this week whether it will modify the House- approved executive order (EO) on the privatization of power giant Eletrobras. The EO expires on 22 June and if changes are introduced in the Senate it will have to go back to the House for further analysis. There is resistance in the Senate to controversial parts of the EO agreed at the House such as the requirement to contract 6 gigawatts (GW) in reserve capacity energy from gas- fired thermal plants in the North, Northeast and Midwest regions. In addition, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has confirmed that the government intends to extend pandemic-related emergency assistance for two months (August and September), which is perceived as sufficient time for vaccination to accelerate and for the government to define the contours of the new social program that will replace the cash-transfer Bolsa Familia program.
Following the 6 June elections and last week’s surprise announcement of changes to the economic team, there are tentative hopes among some in the local business community that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is moving towards a more pragmatic position. On 10 June, AMLO met leading business representatives grouped under the Mexican Council of Business (CMN) umbrella. AMLO is keen to encourage private investment; with that in mind, the finance minister-designate Rogelio Ramirez de la O is supposed to be working on a new package of infrastructure projects that will require private sector participation. As ever, AMLO’s plans for the energy sector will be a key test of how durable his newly rediscovered moderation is.
A new lockdown started in the Santiago Metropolitan Region (RM) on 12 June, the third in the last 15 months, even though over 43% of the population has received two vaccine doses. Health authorities put the reasons for the persistently high caseload on several factors. These include public fatigue with restrictions; insufficient economic assistance that means many people need to go out to work; the spread of variants (the Gamma variant now being the most prevalent strain in Chile); seasonal factors; and the fact that despite the vaccine rollout, herd immunity has not yet been reached. There is less willingness on the part of health officials to broach the issue of the Sinovac vaccine’s efficiency. In a bid to increase the vaccinated population, 12-17 year-olds will start receiving the Pfizer vaccine from 21 June.