As expected, the government's party won the vast majority of mayoral races, many of them in rural areas. The Democratic Unity Mesa (MUD) won some of the country's most important races including 4 out of 5 mayoral spots in the capital area, Maracaibo and Barinas.
Though local municipal races really shouldn't be a national referendum, for those who wanted it (and some in the MUD did try to play that card), the governing PSUV won 44% of the national vote while the MUD won just under 41%. There are plenty of analysts who will try to add up coalitions to show that their side won. The most important points are that the country is remains divided and neither side has a clear majority.
While both sides tried to spin this election as a win last night, both should see it as a loss.
The Maduro government's PSUV, in spite of price controls, appliance giveaways and having all the resources of the state at their disposal to mobilize for this election, could only manage 44% of the vote.
The MUD, in spite of facing a weak president managing a failing economy with >50% inflation, major shortages and electrical blackouts, could only win 41% of the vote.
A clear win would have given Maduro some form of a renewed mandate while a clear loss would have intensified the pressure against him. Instead, the results of this election do not change much in terms of how Venezuela is governed or the pressure facing the Maduro government.
In September, Johnny Araya of the PLN held a 20 point lead in the polls for Costa Rica's February 2014 presidential election. He had around 35% while no other candidate was over 15%. In the past two months, Araya has taken some big hits while Jose Villalta of the Frente Amplio and Otto Guevara of the Movimiento Libertario (ML) have gained ground.
The race today (using the top numbers from the Unimer poll published in La Nacion) has Villalta 22, Araya 19, Guevara 19, all within the margin of error. Luis Solis of the PAC comes in fourth with 8%, but he is also gaining ground. In Costa Rica, a candidate has to win 40% in the first round to avoid a runoff.
Araya's fall comes as the poll shows only 11% of voters rate President Chinchilla's administration as positive, with 61% negative and 27% average.
On top of Chinchilla's unpopularity, the Tico Times explains Araya's fall in this way:
A series of campaign blunders also has cost Araya the lead, analysts say, including an October interview with the daily La Teja, in which Araya had no idea how much a typical casado, or traditional Costa Rican meat and rice dish, costs. Araya said, “₡1,000,” or about $2 – less than half its actual cost. He also didn’t know the average cost of a liter of milk or a kilo of rice, leading many potential voters to believe the former mayor is out of touch with the high cost of living in the country.For Villaalta, the poll is mostly positive news. He's gained 12 points in two months, has 66% name recognition and is the only candidate with a net favorable rating (55/31). Voters who are looking for an alternative to the Arias/Chinchilla era are starting to see him as a credible alternative. Araya (33/57) and Guevara (38/54) both face a much higher negative ratings, even as nearly 100% of voters claim to know them.
The Araya campaign has made clear that its strategy now is to go negative on Villalta. With the Frente Amplio candidate making serious gains, the comparisons to Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega have begun in full. Villalta needs to portray himself as a center-left reform alternative to the current administration while Araya wants his opponent portrayed as a dangerous radical who will lead Costa Rica away from its long term path of growth. Given that a third of voters don't know Villalta and 40-50% of voters are either undecided or could change their mind, the narrative that voters believe about Villalta will likely decide the next public opinion movement in this election.
Colombian President Santos visited the US yesterday and received President Obama's full support on the ongoing FARC peace process. The visit is well covered by Sarah Kinosian over at Just the Facts.
After the meeting, Santos told reporters, "The relations of our two countries find themselves at their best moment ever."
That's an important message that analysts in both countries and across the political spectrum need to hear. It would be a shame if anyone thought the "best moment" in US-Colombia relations was when we had good police cooperation during the Pablo Escobar era or great military training during the implementation of Plan Colombia. The "best moment" should never be defined as the moment at which the most military aid was provided.
Instead, US and Colombian efforts to draw down the military operations, support the peace process, and begin a new focus on economic issues are leading us to better and more equal relations between the two countries. We have had great military cooperation with Colombia over the years, but both countries will be better off when our bilateral relations are based on peace and trade instead of how well we can cooperate to fight a war.
At least 100 times this year I've thought that it would be really helpful to have an intern to assist me with my blogging and other writing projects. I might as well post this and see if I can get an intern for a few months in early 2014 and see how it works.
Here are some likely questions:
Do bloggers have interns?
It's all a big experiment. I have no idea how well this internship will work. If you're hoping for a traditional internship with an established business or thinktank that will look good on a resume, you probably should not apply.
What qualifications are you looking for?
I'm looking for a college student or recent graduate who is smart about Latin American politics/economics/media and can do quick and effective research online. You need to read and write in English and be able to do research in Spanish and/or Portuguese. I need a commitment of 5-10 hours per week. I don't care where you live as all the work will be virtual.
What will Boz's intern do?
Research support, editing, and footnotes (I hate footnotes). I'll probably task you to go find me articles on some obscure topic and you'll send me back a summary of the articles plus links to all the articles you found. Or I'll send you something I've written and ask you to edit and footnote it.
Can I earn college credit?
Does it pay?
I knew you were going to ask that. I can't guarantee any specific hourly wage. I'll do my best to give you the opportunity to get paid a stipend for some of the research you do. That's all I can promise.
How do I apply?
I don't know. Convince me I should hire you. Maybe it's a resume and cover letter. Maybe it's a solid recommendation letter. Maybe it's a writing sample. Whatever you think will get my attention and make a good case.
Following up on my post this weekend about the first year of Peña Nieto's presidency, a few polls show his numbers having dropped in recent months.
Buendia and Laredo has President Peña Nieto at 50% approval and 37% disapproval. Also, 33% say the country is on the right track while 40% say it's on the wrong track (DMN).
Reforma reports EPN's numbers at 44% approval and 48% disapproval.
Both polling firms say his lower numbers reflect disappointment at the recently passed fiscal reform (which may also mean discontent with the general direction of the economy). Security concerns were also cited by poll respondents.
While 44% and 50% are not terrible numbers, they are low for a president in Mexico after one year. For contrast, Calderon's poll numbers after one year in office were hovering around 60%.
Right after Enrique Peña Nieto won the presidency, I wrote that a key challenge would be "The unscripted presidency. EPN's advisors won't be able to script his presidency the way they did his campaign."
It turns out that, at least regarding the first year, I was partially wrong about that. They scripted the legislative agenda for year one beautifully. The president set an agenda, forged a political pact among the parties, and then checked the boxes off on each item on the to do list. He passed education reform, telecom reform, fiscal reform, and energy reform is looking likely to pass soon.
At the basic level, the image and political narrative created is of a president getting things done to reform institutions. In that sense, everything is on script.
Of course, if you dig down, the details of those reforms are not as bold as they were sold. Implementation of education reform remains stuck at the state level and several teacher organizations continue to protest. Everyone is still waiting on the secondary laws for telecom reform and then its implementation to see if it actually breaks up the big monopolies. Fiscal reform ended up angering the business community and not meeting its targets for revenue or spending. Energy reform has a long road ahead even after the initial constitutional change passes.
While he's created an image of being a president who can pass legislation, the other side of the political narrative coin is that the two key issues, security and economic growth, have not seen the improvements Peña Nieto promised during his campaign. Having promised a 50% reduction in homicides, he's had a 10-20% reduction that has been replaced with a big increase in kidnapping and extortion. The Mexican economy had a slow year in 2013 and forecasts for 2014 are going down.
I expect the president to continue to push an economic-focused agenda in his second year, keeping security a secondary issue. Even if his policies aren't particularly different from his predecessor, EPN doesn't want his presidency to be defined by the fight against organized crime. His one big security plan to create a 40,000 strong gendarmerie has virtually disappeared. He has reacted at times to criminal group shifts in certain regions, most recently militarizing the port of Lazaro Cardenas, but doesn't have a pro-active strategy to try to fight against the criminal groups nationally.
EPN enters year two having successfully used up a good amount of political capital in passing bills, but having challenges in implementing them. At some point the media or the citizens will hold his administration accountable for not improving the security or economic situation as promised. As the mid-point of his term gets closer, the other political parties will stop cooperating to prepare for the 2015 legislative elections. But don't underestimate this president and his advisors, who are politically talented. They have certainly thought through how they would like to script the second year agenda to run.
Two articles this month highlight some of the significant problems in Mexico's agriculture industry. The new website Vocativ reported on the Knights Templar control over the avocado industry in Michoacan, including extortion, kidnapping and money laundering. The LA Times reported on the migrant laborers on tomato farms in Sinaloa, who suffer under conditions that amount to indentured servitude.
One of the things linking these two articles is that both involve criminal actions. It's easy to point at the Knights Templar as a criminal organization and call for more Mexican government involvement in stopping them from abusing the industry. However, indentured servitude is as illegal as money laundering and extortion. The same weak institutions that allow for criminal groups to control the agriculture in one state also hold back the ability to protect the labor rights of those tomato farmers. Mexico needs stronger rule of law to enforce the labor regulations that should be guaranteeing the migrant workers fair wages and conditions.
Reuters has an absolutely fantastic investigation on China's control over Ecuador's oil industry. As of mid-2013, China controls 86% of all oil exported from Ecuador and that number may top 90% in future years. Chinese funds will cover 61% of Ecuador's government financing this year.
While the story has previously been about China trying to find energy supplies for its own population, Reuters shows that China is actually buying Ecuador's oil to trade on international markets, making a profit and hedging against other supply disruptions. Over 200,000 barrels per day of Ecuadoran oil ended up in the US via Chinese middleman trades.
In August I wrote: "What happens when a post-Correa government turns against China?"
China's most recent agreement appears to hedge against that problem by authorizing the Chinese government to collect debt from any company that owes PetroEcuador or other Ecuador government assets internationally.
1) The Honduras election is too close to call. It's too early for anyone to declare themselves the winner. It's too early to claim there is fraud. Unfortunately, that's what happened last night. Both Juan Orlando Hernandez and Xiomara Castro declared themselves president-elect based on <45% of the early counts from the TSE, their own internal polling results and some of the results obtained from precincts that have not yet been reported. The campaigns of both Castro and Nasralla announced that they believe there is a fraud taking place.
2) Using the exit poll data I could find last night, and making a few adjustments based on turnout, I estimated 31.5% for Hernandez and 31% for Castro. Across the various models I've run (models where I'm still making some tough assumptions given the lack of data and there remains a decent margin of error), Hernandez usually has a slight 1-2 point edge. Everyone should expect the numbers to tighten up as more votes are counted. Hernandez is more likely to have won than Castro, but it's still close enough that either candidate could pull it off.
UPDATE: With 67% of the vote counted, Hernandez maintains a 5% lead and it now appears almost certain that he won, even if the margin of victory tightens.
3) While there were some instances of violence and irregularities on election day, I didn't see anything that suggested systemic fraud occurred at the national level. Then again, it's worth waiting until all the votes have been counted and reports are in before making a final declaration on the election conditions. For the day of observations, the OAS, US and EU missions were generally positive about the process. Smaller observer groups (mostly those sympathetic to Libre) spent the day highlighting the various problems they saw across the country. All accusations of fraud and voter intimidation should be taken seriously and investigated. It's also worth considering that while the election problems may not have been serious enough to affect the national result, there may have stolen votes at the local level. Local fraud could impact the legislative or municipal elections. In areas where significant problems were reported, observers should look into the potential that mayoral elections were stolen.
4) Could the vote count be any slower? While I think the TSE vote counting process will eventually deliver an accurate result, it's also way too slow for the age of Twitter. The delay in counting the vote is partially why both leading candidates jumped the gun in declaring themselves president. It's why two of the candidates are now claiming fraud and manipulation. This is something that must be fixed by the next election. There is no reason that at 7AM the morning after the election, only about half the votes have been counted.
5) It's clear the presidential winner will obtain less than 40% of the vote and potentially under 33%. The Congress is going to be far more plural and more divided. No candidate or party has a significant mandate. Honduras's institutions should try to reflect that divided country, yet should also focus on being productive, not continuing to fight the political battles of the election. That's idealistic of me. It's much more likely that Honduras is goinge to see some protests.
Last Friday I spoke at the Wilson Center about the Honduras elections that are taking place this weekend. The video is here. A few points below:
1) Yes, it's a tie. The limited data I've seen shows Juan Orlando Hernandez and Xiomara Castro are in a statistical tie. Either one of them can win. I don't believe the polls showing either of them has a statistically significant lead or that Villeda has closed the gap in the past 30 days.
2) I expect a long, difficult election night. The election is close and the vote counting system will have some glitches. We may not even know the winner on election night.
3) I expect the losing candidate will be less than gracious. If Castro loses, she will likely claim fraud and protest the election. If Hernandez loses, he will claim Castro bought votes (with Venezuelan oil/drug money) and that her plan for a constituent assembly is unconstitutional. The biggest surprise for me on election night would be a gracious acceptance of a loss by one of these candidates. I expect there to be anger and rejection, not acceptance.
4) The Honduran election system needs more reforms. If you watch Jim Swigert's presentation before mine, you can see all the excellent work NDI has done to help the election system since 2009. That said, it's still seriously flawed. They need a system to make campaign finance more transparent and controlled. They need a professional TSE that isn't based around the control of specific political parties. They need a media universe that represents diverse opinions and is a tough watchdog of all the candidates.
5) We, as a hemisphere, should discuss how to handle flawed elections. Given the flaws in the Honduran system and the violence against candidates and journalists, calling this election perfectly "free and fair" would be an exaggeration. At the same time, given lack of evidence of serious fraud, claiming it's "undemocratic" would also be an exaggeration. In the presentation, I compared it to the Venezuela election earlier this year, in which Maduro won but Capriles presented some convincing evidence that conditions were far from ideally democratic. We need to figure out how to handle election results in a way that gives a fair hearing to the complaints by losing candidates without undermining the ability to work with the eventual winner.
6) The Honduran public is divided and disillusioned with its political system; no president-elect should claim a mandate. If the final results on Sunday have Candidate A with 37.x and candidate B with 35.x, that's not a sweeping mandate for Candidate A. It's a sign of a narrow plurality within a divided public where only 55-60% even bothered to vote. In an ideal world, the winning candidate would sit down with the losing candidate to work towards a combined agenda. In Honduran politics, the winner is going to claim a mandate and the loser is going to do everything to undermine it. Discouraging that sort of political battle will be the hemisphere's challenge in the weeks and months after the election.