Will the Pink Tide Ebb or Flow?

21st Mar.
Ross Evans

With Presidential elections fast approaching in Ecuador, the rest of Latin America looks to the small nation to give a reading of where politics sits on the Continent. A so-called ‘pink tide’ swept the continent in the previous decade, Ecuador will determine whether it has now receded.

2 Mins (517 Words)

On 2 April, Ecuador will return to the ballot box for round two of the Presidential elections. The first vote (18 February) left Lenín Moreno, the governing socialist party’s candidate, just shy of the 40% threshold needed for victory. Guillermo Lasso finished second, with 28.1% of the vote, from a field of nine candidates. But with the pool now down to two, the conservative challenger will look to mop up the residual support.

The polls are tight. CEDATOS places Mr Lasso at 52.1%, with a margin of 3.4% error. However, this election holds wider significance for Latin America. Will it cement the continent’s drift to the right? Or will Ecuador remain one of the last leftist outposts against an apparent sea of change?

Mr Moreno is carrying the legacy of his predecessor, Rafael Correa. One of the standard-bearers for the swathe of socialist politicians that swept to power in the 2000s, he was not eligible to run for a third term. Now hope lies with Moreno to bring the PAIS alliance – the governing coalition – to victory. But across the continent, the second wave of left-wing leaders has not been met with the same popularity as their “pink tide” forebears. 

It all started with Hugo Chavez, the charismatic and idealistic Venezuelan leader who came to power in 1999. The seeming anti-hero of George W. Bush’s brand of rugged individualism, he inspired hope across Latin America with his calls for a "socialism for the 21st century”. Nation after nation followed his path: Luiz Inácio “Lula” in Brazil, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay. They were the voice of the poor, those who felt disenfranchised from years of neoliberalism and authoritarianism. And with the commodities boom of the 2000s, the leaders had the funds for social programs to back their rhetoric. Their popularity soared. 

But ripples of discontent eventually began to spread through the continent. Murmurs of creeping authoritarianism grew louder. Accusations of corruption multiplied. The commodities boom subsided. Belts were tightened...

A new crop of pink-tide leaders came to the fore. But they did not possess the same charisma as the old coterie. With economies starting to wobble, leaders began to fall. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was rejected at the polls in Argentina. Dilma Rousseff was impeached in Brazil. And Nicolás Maduro’s socialist PSUV was resoundingly defeated in parliamentary elections. All were replaced by pro-business, centre-right presidents and parties. Commentators declared the pink tide had turned. 

But this may be premature. Evo Morales is still holding firm in Bolivia. Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay like-wise. Eyes will therefore turn to Ecuador for the latest reading of where the tide lies. 

Mr Moreno struggles to muster the same popularity as his predecessor Correa. Maybe this validates a criticism sometimes levelled against the pink tide: that the personalities overshadowed the policies. In a continent where presidential term limits are common, the longevity of these movements was therefore curbed from the outset. At the same time, Mr Moreno won the first round with a large margin. The question will be whether his opponent can galvanise those that voted for neither, and become the symbol for change.

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